When I look into your eyes
It’s like watching the night sky, or a beautiful sunrise
Well, there’s so much they hold
And just like them old stars,
I see that you’ve come so far to be right where you are
How old is your soul?
I won’t give up on us, even when the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love; I’m still looking up
– I Won’t Give Up, Jason Mraz
Sometimes, it’s hard to measure the gravity of a year.
A year can sometimes feel like a flash of lightning. It goes by in a blur, leaving traces of highlights in your head before you bumble into the next.
Sometimes, memories are something we take for granted. We hold onto the ugly – conflicts, quarrels, heartbreak; while the things worth celebrating reside in the quiet corners of our minds.
I knew it had been a year. Thankfully, she’d been in relatively good health with no major issues, other than the usual – dementia, high blood pressure, and the aftereffects of a debilitating stroke. I wasn’t expecting things to be the same, but at the same time I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Walking up to her bed, I said my usual hellos and started singing, as I would. My voice was met by a blank stare.
My grandmother, my caregiver throughout my toddler years, one of the people closest to my heart – had absolutely no idea who I was.
I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but I felt my heart break in that instant.
My grandmother has always been my greatest cheerleader. Perhaps it’s because she’s been through worse. She’s survived a war; she’s been a young widow; she’s battled moving to another country. Nothing could get her down, except when a stroke hit her ten years ago.
Even then, she demonstrated sheer determination and willpower. When doctors told us she may not survive the night, she fought hard and proved the doctors wrong. She went for physiotherapy sessions to work on regaining mobility, and did her best to walk again.
But… as age caught up with her, dementia hit. She began forgetting days, months. She gradually lost the ability to walk, which dampened her spirits a little. But she embraced going around in a wheelchair, despite the initial embarrassment.
Then we realised she would forget to take her medication. And then she would lose the ability to feed herself, which meant tube feeding was needed.
Every step of the way, my heart sank a little more. But my grandma never gave up hope.
When I was at university, I would return to Singapore twice a year. Visiting my grandmother would always be a priority. Last year however, I chose not to return, only deciding to go home for a visit in February for Chinese New Year.
I don’t know why I was surprised that my grandmother could no longer recognise me. Maybe I took her memory for granted. Maybe I thought, as her beloved grandchild, the one she so willingly shielded whenever my mother brandished a cane, I would always be remembered fondly.
But I was wrong.
This time, I drew strength from our memories. I sang the songs we used to scream at the top of our voices – old Chinese favourites like 甜蜜蜜 and 夜来香. Christmas carols came to mind, and she started singing along to Jingle Bells. But my presence was still met with a blank stare.
On my last day in Singapore, I woke up feeling really unrested. I could feel a migraine coming on. But I decided to pay one last visit even though the nursing home felt so far away.
As I walked in this time, she smiled. And as I began to sing, I could see the life and joy in her eyes.
She finally remembered. (And I nearly burst into tears.)
I’m heading home again in a couple of months, and part of me is afraid her brain will once again betray her, and she will forget who I am.
But this time, I am better prepared.
When she forgets, I’ll remember for us both. I’ll remember the happy times – cha cha lessons on the balcony of a cruise ship; climbing a eucalyptus tree in Perth; epic Chinese New Year feasts.
Dementia can steal our memories, but it can’t steal our joy.
I’ll remember for us. (: