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To My Grandfather Who Has Alzheimer's: I Will Not Let You Go

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I’ve never had a bad meal at your house. Ever. 

Until today.

You’ve never forgotten a character in the hundreds of stories you’ve recounted from your childhood at least a thousand times.

Until this year.

You were the one, just 10 years ago, who drove us all over the backwoods of Alabama and Georgia, introducing me to all your old friends, showing me family graves and letting me experience the wonder of your old stomping grounds through your eyes.

Banana pancakes and sausage are my favorite thing, but only when you cook them. “You know I stick strictly to a recipe” has always been your joke. And we all know it’s the furthest thing from the truth. I never knew about scratch cookin’ until you.

But this morning when I arrived to spend time with you and Nanny, you didn’t even remember you were supposed to cook us breakfast until she came downstairs half an hour later and mentioned it. I couldn’t find the nerve to tell you again.

Oh, the countless hours we’ve spent on the phone at night since I was a senior in high school. I wonder if my teachers ever figured out the night editor for the Birmingham News had written half my papers.

And when I was in college, you and Nanny would hop in the car and drive to Tennessee for the weekend. What a blast!

You — the great conversationalist — the greatest storyteller I have ever known. You, who never forgot a name, or a detail, or a story… it seems we’ll be the ones telling the stories from now on.

This morning, as we sat, mostly quiet, I thought back on all our heated discussions of theology. Everything I’ve ever learned about Calvinism and the restitution of all things came from you. You were the one person I could always talk to about the things no one is ever supposed to discuss: religion, politics and a myriad of current affairs. For years, you’ve been my teacher. My mentor. My friend.

Oh, how I wish we’d written that novel I’d always secretly wanted to co-author. And finished the family video project. And made that book of all your “isms”.

But we didn’t. And you are fading. And my heart breaks with every single visit. As I ease down that long dirt driveway, through the trees, bumping along, tears splash down on my  shirt and I feel like the Heavens should cry too, just to adequately set the scene.

The Vietnam war correspondent seems to be fighting a war of his own now. A war none of us truly understand, but we all see the effects of this miserable disease.

Alzheimer’s. I hate every syllable.

But you, ol’ bud, I will not let you go so easily. You didn’t let me go when I was a kid and took your pocket knife and cut up the interior of your Ford truck. You didn’t let me go when I was a pre-teen, playing in the old junk cars down by the barn and forgot and left the dog locked in there in the heat of the Alabama Summer. It’s a miracle the old dog made it.

But you didn’t let me go. And I won’t let you go either.

Even when it is frustrating as hell. Even when I sob my eyes out on the way home. Even when I am angry at the disease and want to avoid this foggy misrepresentation of such a sharp and brilliant man, I refuse. Because you have never walked out on me. Never been too busy for me. Always taught me with such patience and were willing to do anything I wanted to do, just to spend time with me.

So maybe it isn’t theological discussions any more. Maybe we don’t rant and rave about the plight of American politics. You just want me to find you pictures of blue jays and cats on the iPad. And that is perfectly fine with me.

Even if I have to write down your Facebook password a hundred times. Even if I have to make the long drive a million more times, just to turn your computer on (when you are convinced there’s something wrong with it). Even if I have to hear you tell me the same story three times in the same conversation. I’ll keep showing up. Keep cherishing the good times. And celebrating the moments when you surprise us all and show up fresh and sharp for a few brief moments.

For as long as that remains. I’m not letting go.

Maybe we’ll cook banana pancakes together next time.


Originally published: July 15, 2016
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