ABCs – A Letter To My Grandmother

by Audrey Miller on January 29, 2015

in Caregiving, Dementia, Elder Care

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A post from Helen Picard, a writer and graphic designer studying history at the University of Toronto. Helen sent us this poem, written to her grandmother and with her permission, am sharing it with you.
This is a letter to you, grandma, because I could not speak or write when you were sixty, and you could not write or speak when you were seventy.

Time gave me fluency of speech and a legible hand, but eroded yours in a way neither of us could understand.

Because telomeres and tissue loss, neurofibrillary tangles and twisted fibres are not on the primary or elementary school syllabi. I learned my ABC’s while yours were tangled and taken from you.

C is for cell death, B for beta amyloid, A for Alzheimer’s.

You were a schoolteacher and a mother, in both Montreal and Toronto, so you knew your ABC’s, and taught them to others; but not these.

On the first cool day of autumn in 1994 you took me for a carriage ride, and we got lost, you and I. A suburban labyrinth of pavement and trees swallowed us.

C is for carriage.

Some helpful neighbours called my parents, who picked us up. That must have been the last we spent time alone together.

From then on, you were a Christmas visit before going to my Aunt’s house for macaroni salad, ham, and presents. Grandma’s sick, that’s what they told me.

The vacancy in your eyes scared me, but you still looked gentle and kind: remnants of your personality and the beautiful life you led.

But still, every visit was the same – I played on the carpet with my sister and cousins while the adults talked, and you seemed to listen from your wheelchair.

C is not for eye contact.

Nor is it for conversation. The only memory I have of you talking is when, long after I learned my ABC’s, you pointed to the framed picture of me on the coffee table, then a lanky ten-year old with glasses, and said, “baby.”

If C if for carriage, B is for Baby. A, of course, is for Alzheimer’s.

This letter is for you, grandma, because our fates are as uncertain and intertwined as our walk that cool autumn day.

This letter is for you grandma, because it is also for me; because A is the start and end, like an old woman pushing a baby in a stroller. Both are lost, and both are at the start of something. Neither is fully formed, and both are uncertain. Both are simply uncertain in the most complicated ways.

A is for Alzheimer’s, B for beta amyloid, C for cell death. And I wish it could stop there, but it goes on: D is for dementia, E is for early onset, F is for family, and G is for genetics.

Which is why, grandma, our ABCs are so simple, yet so complex. And an old woman pushing a baby in a stroller is not just through a labyrinth of trees, but of neural endings: roots, branches, leaves, rippling electrically in the baby’s realization, twenty years later, that she is still there with the old woman, searching in vain for a way out of their own entanglement, which is shared, and inevitable, and young, and old.

This letter is for you, grandma, because my thoughts are straight now, like broad avenues, but may later be marked by peculiar consistencies: identical lampposts lining an endless street, glowing with importance and significance, but without understanding. Their draw cannot be extinguished, because I know they are important, but cannot recall why. I am following them, towing this inkling, this infant suspicion that there’s some turn I missed, that I’ve lost myself in this labyrinth of streets and trees that wave at me, in on the secret.

This letter is for you, grandma, because these ABCs, these letters, this letter, was, is, and will be ours.

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