My grandmother has Alzheimer’s. I saw her recently at a get-together celebrating her fiftieth wedding anniversary. She looked exactly the same as I’ve always remembered her, a short woman with the kind of silver, curled hair only weekly visits to the beauty parlor can give you. I think she called me Mike or some other name, but that didn’t bother me; I knew what she meant.
Usually, I avoid thinking about my grandmother’s illness. I have this feeling that I should be doing or saying something more. Until this morning, though, I had no idea what that might be.
As I do almost every Thursday morning, I buckled all of the kids into the car and headed toward Gabriel’s school. We had twenty minutes to kill, so I decided to explore the old Thoroughgood neighborhood around the school.
Our detour bothered Gabriel. The further we drove away from our established route, the more bothered he got.
“Dad, we can’t be late for school,” he said. “Let’s go to the school like we’re supposed to. You’re getting us lost.”
Gabriel was right, actually. We were lost at one point, but I didn’t tell him that.
“We’re not lost,” I replied. “There’s more than one way to get there.”
Sure enough, I eventually guessed at the correct turn and we threaded our way back to more familiar streets. We made it to the school with minutes to spare and Gabriel relaxed instantly when he saw the brick building.
The second Gabriel relaxed, I thought of my grandmother and her fiftieth wedding anniversary. I wished I had taken Gabriel up to my grandmother and said:
“Gabriel, this is my grandmother. Sometimes, she doesn’t remember me, but I remember her. She used to be a school teacher. When I was a kid, she told me that it was okay that I liked books more than I liked sports. She told me that being smart was way better than being popular. She told me one day I would do something important, right and good. She told me who I was, back when I didn’t even know. She doesn’t remember, but I remember enough for both of us.”
And even though I don’t think it would make a difference, I should have said, “Grandma, I know you’re lost. I know you’re confused. I know you can’t remember how you got here. But try not to be scared; I think we’re all going to the same, good place and there’s more than one way to get there.