Even before the Alzheimer’s, my grandma has always found the oddest things to be “pretty”. Napkins or paper placemats from restaurants were folded neatly in her purse to be taken home. A box of candy got distributed to relatives and she was happy to have the pretty box to save. She saves deflated balloons and the pretty ribbons they were once suspended on. For years she has taken the same pictures of the same trees in our neighborhood in autumn. Sometimes I find myself being irritated with her constant comments about the beauty of every little thing, and then hate myself for whatever psychosis possesses me to resent this unique capacity. If only more people (myself included) could find beauty in this mundane world, maybe the world, (myself included) would be more peaceful.
In the big picture, I want to learn this lesson, and not think of something as ugly, just because it is unfashionable or cheap or tacky. But I do have to draw the line somewhere and find a balance between accepting what my grandma deems pretty, without being irritated, and allowing myself to disagree.
When my son was preparing for his first homecoming dance, I was (briefly) considering making a corsage for his date, instead of buying one. I mentioned this to my grandma, and that I might use roses from our own bushes, but would need to buy some baby’s breath or a few accessories. She had been eating Worther’s candies, with pretty gold wrappers. So, she started crumpling them into a twirly design, and said “This would be pretty, you could put some of these pretty things on the corsage”. My mind is saying, “Umm, they are fucking used candy wrappers. I don’t think so.” But my voice said, “Well, I was thinking of using all natural components in the corsage, but thank you for the suggestion”.
As her dementia is increasing, this idiosyncrasy of hers is standing out to me more, and I am trying to process it differently. We were watching CNN a couple nights ago about the forest fires in California. There was an aerial view of the flames and my grandma said “Oooh, look at that. That is pretty.” I said, “It’s a forest fire. There are wildfires all around San Diego”. A few minutes later, when the screen was showing billowing smoke, she said, “Oooh, look at that pretty cloud. If I was there I would take a picture of that.” When I explained that it was smoke from the forest fires, she did not know what I was talking about or have any recollection of me telling her about the fires a few minutes before. I am learning to not ever point out if she has forgotten something or ask, “Don’t you remember, we just discussed this?”
Some people with Alzheimer’s go through drastic personality changes and develop a lot of paranoia. They can become hostile and accusatory. I wonder if maybe they already had some of these personality traits that just become exaggerated. Maybe my grandma will just have her loving, docile personality traits exaggerated. Maybe I am being naïve, but if she continues to become more affectionate, and clingy, and enamored with how pretty things are, I feel I should be grateful and accepting. It could be much worse.
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