My grandfather has had Alzheimer's for about a decade now. It runs deep in the family. We'll usually be sitting around the dinner table when my grandpa blurts out, "Bryan, are you in college now?" I tell him I go to USC and he reveals to me that it makes us classmates. Cue five minutes, "Bryan, are you in college now?" I explain again that I go to USC and with the same amount of fervent passion as before he reveals to me a second time that it makes us classmates. Thanks for the heads up, grandpa.
He's been asking me this same question for the past four years now, which I suppose is a good thing. If I look at it from my grandpa's perspective I'll probably get to stay in college forever.
I already know there's a high probability I will get the disease. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. Heck, I already lose my wallet once a day because I forget where I put it! I swear it just disappears (or it might be more of a personal responsibility thing, but I'll take any excuse I can get).
Slowly as my grandpa has lost the ability to do things he will occasionally get frustrated with himself - call himself useless. My mom likes to make this analogy to my grandpa in times of need. She rests her hand in his, "it's just that your brain has already used up all its hard drive space, there's no more room!" I'm not sure how exactly my grandpa reacts to that statement but it is true. For what he does remember, his hard drive is rich with peculiar memories.
I remember one day we were sitting in a restaurant munching on chips and salsa when my grandpa just started going off about his childhood. Apparently he and his friends back in China would dig up bones - human bones - from old graves near their homes to play baseball with them.
I imagine they must have used the femur as bats and, well, skulls for the ball. It only makes sense.
Mr. Alzheimer's was particularly strong the night at that restaurant. My grandpa described filling his nails with dirt as they picked their bats and balls of choice from the graves. He got to the midway part of the story where he talked about being the batter. His femur bat was just making contact with the skull ball when all of the sudden... he completely forgot he was telling the story! I never got to know if he hit a home run because, with a smile on his face, he would just start to retell the story from the beginning, re-explaining in detail the laborious process of digging bones out of the ground to prep for the game. I think he might have told the same story nine times that night. I could be wrong; I was trying to keep a tally but I was also laughing too hard on the floor.
I tell this story in particular because that night I think I realized something about my grandpa. For me, him repeating the story over and over again made his story true. That's easy to say though; I mean everyone's stories are true, right?
But, that's the thing I'm observing about Alzheimer's. Your brain forgets what's going on so quickly that often you just speak what's on your mind - totally unfiltered. That may seem like a flaw, but it creates something very raw about my grandpa. It was like I was staring into the soul of another person who was clearly so passionate and happy about this memory that he told it, without hesitancy, again and again. He had no mental capacity to create fluff, so everything that came from him was of him.
And what was of him and inside his soul from this memory were hints of joy.
This just gets me thinking, what is my soul going to become about? I'm not sure - because right now it seems like I spend most of my time worrying and being anxious about silly things. You know, things like, are people going to like me more if I say something super deep and profound? Or am I sure I bought the right kind of flowers for my girlfriend (she doesn't really care)? But I don't want all that Alzheimer's leaves me with to be about worry and anxiety. And the clock is ticking. I only have 350,400 hours before Alzheimer's usually starts to kick in for people, so I better start making some more joyful memories. Yes I did the math.
I'm looking for a little hope. There are some wise people out there who speak of God as if he brings them joy all the time. Wake up with joy. Suffer with joy. Take a poo with joy. Sleep with joy. It's as if God has filled their soul with endless euphoria.
Endless euphoria sounds like something you can only experience in heaven.
But I have a theory. Maybe Alzheimer's is a gift that when done right you can experience heaven a little earlier than most people. Alzheimer's will strip everything from me except for the core of who I am. I hope that somehow I become so tight friends with God that worry and anxiety does not become my soul.
Then, even if Alzheimer's takes my mind away slowly - my mind will be jumbled and lost in my soul's contentment of joy.
It will be endless euphoria on earth, and it will be sweet.