I Don’t Want To Lose My Mind
I watched my paternal Great-Grandmother deteriorate over time. A woman who stood at 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed over 200 pounds. She was the epitome of “a strong tower.” For years, she carried us. We descended from her bloodline, all of us; her eyes piercing through each of our faces — her voice found in mine and a few of my cousins’.
We did not think she would become the person she was before she died but she did. When you watch the woman who helped raise you in her home for the better part of three years lose her sense of self, there is a depth to that which cannot be explained.
Everything about her demanded attention. She was not only vocal, but she also commanded a room with her presence. Her voice would echo long after she left. When she spoke, people listened. I envied that. I knew that when I grew up, I wanted people to listen to me the way they so easily listened to my pistol of a Great-Grandmother.
She married once and never remarried. I did not know my Great-Grandfather. He died while my Dad and his siblings were young. I do know that like my paternal Grandfather, he was an Army man and died before he reached his sixties.
My parents were teenagers when I was born. A bout with lead poisoning landed us a temporary stay with my Great-Grandmother whom I’d learn to call “Grandma Tiggs.”
The following story has been told to me many times . . . Shortly after I ingested paint chips from our apartment’s walls, I became sick and was hospitalized. Grandma Tiggs let me know her advisement to my parents was, “I don’t care what y’all do, but bring my baby to me.” And to her, I went. We all went. And with her, I’d find the beauty of a soul with a hard shell.
She potty-trained me by placing my potty in the living room in front of the television while letting me know that I could not get up until something was in the potty. There, in front of her television, I became familiar with Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and As The World Turns. I snacked on apple and peach slices, whole milk, and homemade ice cream. I could not drink any juice or water until after I cleaned my plate. We ate our meals at the family dining table and nowhere else inside the house.
Her home. Her rules.
She taught Sunday School, was a “Mother" in our small church and swam at our local YMCA to relax and strengthen her muscles when she got older. I recall being in Grandma Tiggs’ Sunday School class and not only did I learn more to add to what I had already been taught in her home, but I also grew to respect her at an entirely different level.
We would begin our class by singing Jesus Loves The Little Children and end it with Jesus Loves Me. There was no favoritism issue toward me. If anything, I had to show and prove myself more than my peers. She expected that.
Every Sunday after church, we’d have dinner at her place. My family, all of us, gathered at her table with growling bellies and mouths watering from the various delicious smells from her kitchen. We would wait until she plopped her buttocks down in her seat at the head of the table. She was our matriarch — she blessed our food.
When I went to college, I came home every other weekend and one of my pastimes would be sitting on Grandma Tiggs' porch with her and talking. This, I did for three years. Right before my fourth year, my Great-Grandmother started showing signs of dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s disease.
Little things like my name, if I wore glasses or not, where I was born, if I used to live with her, what her address was, where she was born, etc. were foreign to her. There would be moments of lucidity but they did not last long. The disease became so crippling that her remaining living children made the decision to place her in the care of a small facility where a home health nurse and her team took on salvaging the last of Grandma Tiggs' mind as best as they could. This is to say, they made her shift into this new era easier to bear.
She was leaving us. There would be no turning back.
I visited her. I had to make an appointment in advance. Our days became Friday or Saturday whenever I came home for a particular weekend. At first, she knew who I was. She would sit and hold my hand — pat my leg while I spoke. We would have what seemed like hours of memorable conversation. Soon after, we fell into the comforts of our past, she’d forget who I was or call me by one of my older cousin’s names.
There were many moments that I had to fight off tears because she would be escorted away from me if she stirred up the environment. I was often frightened by her behavior, however, I had to remind myself that within that withering body with the twin-like withering brain was my life-source, my Great-Grandmother.
I watched this tower of a woman turn into a rude, senseless, and ruthless flailing spirit. I still cannot put into words what it feels like. I realize upon writing this that there are many moments I repressed because they are too painful to recall.
Grandma Tiggs died when she was eighty-five years old. Her funeral was a home-going celebration in a church full of devoted and loyal family members and friends. It was a detrimental period of my life — her passing. For years, I would be reminded of just how quickly her mind faded and how she left me longing for more of her and her presence.
My Grandmother, Grandma Tiggs' second oldest child is eighty-four and while she is still fully capable of making certain decisions and living on her own, she too began showing signs of some form of dementia two years ago. Gradually, her demeanor is shifting from peaceful and mild-mannered to impatient and outlandish.
She repeats herself. She forgets to turn the stove off. She refuses to listen to members of authority in certain situations. She is adamant about not moving away from her current living space and will let you know in a heartbeat that she is still very much in control.
But, she is not.
I have watched the women in my life lose their faculties, their primal sense of being and purpose, and personalities too. The one thing I fear about aging is losing my sense of self — losing my mind. It terrifies me because I have seen what can happen. I know what outcome lies ahead. I have no children to care for me or ensure my safety. Who will come to my aid?
I don’t want to leave this world a shell of a person. But I don’t get to plan the way I will die or what may cause my death. I can only hope that any major changes or disturbances won’t break the hearts of those I love who may outlive me.
I want to be a good memory for them. I hope I will be.
©2020 Tremaine L. Loadholt