Thursday, July 16, 2009

Still Stephanie

My mom came over yesterday morning to watch Jemma so that Annie and I could go to a Mommy/Child cooking class (moderately fun until Annie dropped an egg on the ground and wanted to LEEEEEEEEAVE, then back to moderately fun when we commenced making ice cream). Because my grandpa was on a trip with his brother for a few days, my mom brought along my grandma, who has Alzheimer's and can't be left alone.

They walked in the door, my grandma first. When I asked how she was, my grandma muttered, "I shouldn't be here. Your mother should have left me at home." She likes to stay in bed until late in the day. She likes to be left alone at home, doing crossword puzzles. Luckily Jemma saved the day with all her spontaneous hugging and kiss-blowing, and soon my grandma was playing puzzles and watching Sesame Street, seeming for all the world almost like the grandma I grew up with.

I just finished the book Still Alice by Lisa Genova. It's fiction, about a woman who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. My great-grandmother had it, and now my grandma does, too. So as I read it, while I was following the events, a second storyline was running concurrently through my head: is this how it feels for my grandma? Will my mom have this, too? Will I? Because there's a strong genetic linkage, I've wondered this before, but it's something I don't let myself think about too much. In the book, two of Alice's three children elect to discover whether or not they are positive for the genetic mutation (one is, one isn't), while the third doesn't want to know. The one who is positive is also trying to start a family, and she undergoes PGD to implant only embryos without the gene. (And now you don't have to read the book . . .)

It was hard to read, for sure, and it's hard every time I see my grandma, slightly diminished in what she can do and what she remembers. In my mind, she's still washing dishes and looking out the front window almost every time we pull into the driveway (our family joked that "grandma has her hands stuck in the sink again"), canning peaches and pears in big glass Ball jars, frying potatoes in a little bacon grease, fluent in English, German, and Latin, a master of crossword puzzles and writing to her Senator. She hasn't yet reached the stage where she doesn't know who I am, but that will come soon. She is still Beatrice, and yet she is not.

Every time my memory has failed me this week, every time a word takes a bit longer to come to the front of my mind, I have thought about it. About if I have already passed this gene on to my two children. About if, given the opportunity, I would want to know if this is going to happen to me, someday. Or if it's better to suspect, then to cross your fingers and go about living your life as though it isn't.

1 comment:

  1. Steph,
    I have lots of thoughts and commentary on this post, most of which I'll save for our upcoming escape to the cottage. However, I must say that I never knew that your Grandma's name was Beatrice. I love it! I love it so much that I'm putting it on your "Pros" list to consider when deciding whether or not to have another child. Annie, Jemma & Bea - it would be perfect! Is that pushy? Talk to you soon! H