“The Remains of Lost Memories” – Supporting Alzheimer Research

Hello my loyal and wonderful supporters. I want to thank each of you for all the kind and gracious support you have offered me on this journey. Over the past few months I have been inundated with requests for me to share more of myself on this blog site, outside of my upcoming book “Woman to Woman: Letters from Wives to Mistresses.” I want you to know I’ve heard you, and am happy to do just that. So, in between providing more juicy book excerpts, real-life letters from wives and mistresses, and interviews, I will open up my life to you so you can get to know the me that continues to grow and learn.

“Woman to Woman” is dedicated, in part, to my precious grandmother, Marie Lake. This beautiful woman is now in her 90’s, and unfortunately suffers from dementia brought on by Alzheimer disease. In the recent past, once every year, I would place all my belongings in storage and would then fly back to Detroit (my native hometown) to stay with my grandmother for months at a time while she was in the earlier stages of dementia. At that time she was still living in her own home, the home that was in our family for well over 50 years. I wanted not only to spend precious time with her and be a part of her day to day care, but I wanted to give my auntie Necee support because she tends to her mother’s daily needs, and with her own family to look after, I wanted to step in and give her the ability to lessen her load. With all that said, I want all of you to know that once “Woman to Woman” is published, I will be donating $1 from every book sold to the support of Alzheimer research. It is my hope that with all your loving support, we will be able to contribute to finding a cure for this life-shattering disease.

To that end, this weeks post is for one of the dearest loves of my life, my grandma Marie Lake. I hope all of you will enjoy reading a recent essay I wrote dedicated to her titled, “The Remains of Lost Memories”:

Though grandma prayed that it would not happen to her, it has, she no longer remembers.  My grandmother, a once curvaceous woman, is now much thinner in her old age.  A head that is slightly balding but still full of gray hairs.  She is about 5’5” tall and whether her teeth are in or not, she has a smile that beckons me to her warm embrace.  Grandma has always had a raspy kind of laugh, a laugh that would make you think she was hoarse.  Her almond-shaped brown eyes now have a gray ring around them both, quite lovely if you ask me, but all telling of her declining health.  You see, my grandmother is living with dementia, a degenerative disease that comes from a Latin word that means “not in the mind.”  However, despite that definition, her continued course of kindness, her voice that still drips with the same sincerity and her willingness to share whatever she has, is evidence that while memories may be lost to her mind, her heart certainly remembers.

Watching her own mother suffer from the effects of dementia, my grandmother feared that it could happen to her.  Indeed, when she began to realize that her mind was empty (as she described it) about 15 years ago, the Doctor delivered the horrifying news that she was, in fact, in the early stages of Dementia.  Despite the diagnosis, she was still mostly independent and self-functioning.  She had lived in the big family house for over 50-years; a 2-story house, really a duplex, with the strange color combination of brown and green with red trim.  It never mattered what the outside of the house looked like though, because at one time the inside held both my great-grandmother and grandmother. 

Many of my fondest memories are from time spent at the oddly-colored family home.  I still recall being a little girl walking up the stairs to her house on Seminole street in Detroit.  Each stair seemingly a mountain to climb for my 4-year old self with short legs.  I recall trying to hold on to the black railing to pull myself up, but it would lean away when I grabbed it.  Once I got up those 5 stairs to the porch, it was like coming to a fork in the road.  If I went to the left, I would be in great-grandmother’s downstairs unit or I could climb another 15 stairs to go up to grandma’s house.  There was no wrong way because both ended at a grandmother’s love.  A love that has not changed.  In fact, something that I have always adored about my grandmother is that absolutely nothing ever changed with her.  She had the exact same telephone number for over 30 years.  She had the same daily routine – wake up, wash up, eat breakfast (always toast and eggs), sweep her rugs (she never used the vacuum), sweep off her porch and then watch her favorite TV shows (“Good Times” and “Sanford and Son”) for the rest of the day.  Even the way she greeted me never, ever changed.  Whether in person or over the phone, it was either “hi dahlin’” (that’s darling to her) or “hi sugah” (grandma speak for sugar). 

I would always look forward to being called “sugah” on my many trips back to visit her.  It is always like a trip back in time.  It is the same journey as my 4-year old self except only now I am in my 40’s.  I would climb those same 15 stairs up to grandma’s, the brown steps that I would come to realize were oddly narrow and would still creek very loudly, reminiscent of the sound-effects from a horror movie.  Even the smells from my youth were still in the air as I would open the door at the top of the stairs, the scent of fried chicken and “old.”  That “old” smell is kind of hard to describe but it was kind of a stale smell – if you have ever experienced the stale smell of clothes that have been in a trunk in the attic for some time, you would be close to knowing what I mean.  But I digress.  There was my grandma, getting up from her big brown chair that is as old as she is.  Like always, she would chuckle first at the sight of me followed by the words, “hi sugah,” followed by a kiss on the lips and the tightest hug in the world.  Those consistent physical acts of love are what assures me that while I may not be in her memory, I am in her heart.

Grandma no longer remembers much, and she had to move out of her beloved home.  I’m very sad that that oddly colored house on Seminole street no longer belongs to the family; and even though a new family lives there, it is just a building to me now.  The heart of that house is no longer there.  No familiar voices and even the smells that had permeated the walls are long gone. I make sure to call my grandmother often just to tell her that I love her; and as we say our good-byes, I am always at peace. Grandma’s memories are lost, but my mine remain.  Therefore, I don’t care that her memories of me are gone because all that matters now is that I remember her.  Grandma is still kind, generous and warm.  I know that her mind does not remember me, but when we end our calls, she still says, “I love you too sugah,” so I am certain that her heart does in fact remember.

To any of you who have a loved one suffering from this awful disease, my heart is with you; please keep telling them that you love them. Whether they remember you or not, they will enjoy being told that they are loved. Remember, it’s not them recalling who you are that is important, but rather, that you remember them.

Thank you for wanting to know more about me, and for allowing me to share more of myself with you. I welcome your feedback and comments on this or any of my other posts. I hope the direction my blog is taking – being even more personal – will be a welcome and seamless transition for you. I will keep sharing book excerpts, and letters, but I will give all of you a clearer view into my life by sharing laughter, sadness, achievements and failures in ways I hope will inspire and add some joy to the world.

In closing, auntie Necee thank you for being your mother’s caregiver so selflessly, and grandma…I love you.