From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank everyone for your support and encouragement on my last post. I feel so loved! And I want to share this little story today for all of you who also have the same struggles and feelings of despondency (thanks for this new word, Bonnie!)
This story starts with a fall.
It happened on a cold Beijing early-spring morning, when the snow on the ground had just barely melted from that winter. My grandfather was out doing his usual daily morning walk around his quaint neighborhood. He loved walking. He never missed a day. His personal motto was: legs not old, body not old (my translation), and sure enough, he remained youthful and in good health.
Like all other mornings, he pulled on his now-tattered army shoes and started his day with a walk. But this particular morning, somewhere along the way, he took a nasty fall. A chill was still in the air and due to being out in it for too long, he developed a high fever and was rushed to the hospital, where he became confused about why and how he got there. After treatment and some tests, the news came out.
The good news: physically he was going to be completely okay. The bad news: he displayed early signs of Alzheimer.
Our whole family was shocked. How could this happen to him? And so suddenly? Growing up, I’ve always remembered my grandfather as the handy-man, jack-of-all-trades kind of guy (it’s also where my mom gets her resourcefulness). He’s always loved tinkering with little gadgets and gizmos, and re-purposing old unusable items and giving them new lives. It seemed inconceivable that he’d ever be anything else but his happy, clever self.
But sure enough, as some months went by, the signs were all there: frequent forgetfulness, repeating questions, lack of energy…
I last saw my grandpa four years ago when I made a trip to China with my mom and sister. By then, he couldn’t retain any short-term memory anymore. Some days, I took his morning walks with him to make sure he didn’t fall again. During our walks, he would say, “You know why I walk everyday? Because if legs not old, then body not old.”
“That’s right.” I’d reply. “Keep on walking everyday. But just be careful.”
We’d walk on in silence for a few minutes, until it’s broken by “You know why I walk everyday? Because if legs not old…” And so on.
During these years, my grandma was the real hero. From the first day on, it became her personal duty to do everything she could to keep his mind active. She never once gave up. She’s always been a superbly talented artist, and that extends to calligraphy. Everyday, she would make my grandpa practice writing characters. Write, write, write. It kept his days non-idle, his fingers agile, and his mind sharp. It worked. For nearly five years, despite the minor inconveniences of being forgetful, life went on as normal.
Then one day, seemingly overnight, it took a turn for the much much worse. He couldn’t recognize familiar faces anymore, or remember his history, and got violent whenever someone tried to have him eat or use the toilet.
He stopped walking. Stopped talking. And stopped writing. In fact, he didn’t do much at all anymore.
He celebrated a birthday a couple of months ago. Family and friends went over and cake was had, but I don’t think he really comprehended anything.
It now seemed that this once strong, able man has finally been brought down by the fall.
The night I published this post, I went to bed thinking maybe a little blogging break is what I need. Just a tiny one. Until I felt inspired to write again. But in the morning, I got this message from my mom.
“Your grandpa is writing again!”
Is it because my grandma’s efforts have paid off? We’d like to think so! Again, seemingly overnight, he made a turn for the better. And once again, with my grandma’s encouragement, he scribbled out this note for my mother: Happy 2015.
My mom had originally asked me to write something about my grandpa for his birthday. Writing is the best and only gift I can give people these days (and I love the idea of commemorating milestones with words). I had wanted to badly. I had tried, but I couldn’t. The words just didn’t come. But finally today, it is because of his words that I finally found mine. :)
Don’t give up everyone! There will be struggles, there will be setbacks. And maybe it will seem as if it’ll never get better. But keep on practicing, put all your heart into it, and one day, the magic will happen!