She.

by A. Dilanyan

People live. Long and short, happy and not so. But what makes a bag of bones a person? And this is not a philosophical question to consider while sitting on the toilet seat, or while drunk to the gills on a Friday night. No! This is just a fact. The main thing that makes us human is time. We get old and doesn’t matter if a club 27 member or a 113-year-old Japanese grandpa, you age. You reader will never be as young as right now. And now you are older than yourself reading the last sentence.

Life is an unpredictable sequence of events we can’t undo, though we can improve. You never know when your life will end. Maybe by the end of this paragraph, an asteroid will crash on the planet Earth, and you will never find out my favorite color, I am going to mention in the end.

Why do I care about all of this, anyway? I care, because of her.

She was brilliant. I never knew a person that full of life and joy. She was always there, as long as I remember myself. But once, she was gone. She was not dead, physically, but she was not alive either.

She meant life to me, and then there was profound darkness. Never could I imagine that empty look. Think of somebody you care endlessly about. Now, remember all of the joy, moments spent and hours talked with that person. Then, think how would you feel if they forgot you. But not like ghosted you, stopped texting, moved to another country and pretended that you never existed, but forgot who you are. Imagine yourself watching your loved one fading away, and the pain of being so powerless. Begging them to tell your name, and them smiling back, smile so dear but so lost.

She was so colorful. Always wearing her best clothes, even when going to the nearest store. She was the one who cheered me up, kept my secrets safe and cooked the most delicious pies I have ever tasted. She always had a story to share, a joke to tell and a way to put a smile on your face. She would light up a room with her entrance. She never gave up. She knew how valuable life is.  But now she looked grey.

I wanted to help. But how could I help?

Giving up was not an option, so with all the strength I had I started calling to every medical institution available to ask “Do you treat people with dementia? Anyone who can help?” and to hear “Sorry, we don’t. Did you try any madhouses?” I would hang up. She was not crazy. I knew that.

Mental diseases are ignored in Armenia. In many cases dementia is progressive, starting slowly, often unseen, then gradually getting worse and worse. That’s something you hardly recognize until you face it. Dementia is not a precisely defined disease. 

“It’s an overall term that describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.” as defined by Alzheimer’s Association.

Alzheimer’s Association, 2017

My grandma needed the help of professionals, able to treat mixed dementia and as long as I was looking for that help, I understood that there is a massive hole in the medical care system in Armenia. Though every 3 seconds someone develops dementia worldwide, with almost 50 million people worldwide living with dementia in 2017, Armenian health care fails to provide proper treatment or decent living conditions to patients, and all you see are doctors not qualified to help, even if they wanted to. All that Armenia has to offer are mental institutions, which haven’t been renovated for decades, those terrifying places the patients are treated horribly. I went there. With hope for help, I visited every possible hospital. I wish I wouldn’t, and gave up after a call.  

 

We needed help. But there was no one to offer it. We were recommended to consult doctors abroad. But she won’t make it. Even if we could calm her down through the passport control, on the board of the plane, her brain wouldn’t survive a flight due to developing hydrocephalus, commonly known as “water on the brain,” that creates harmful pressure on the brain tissues.

Illustrated by Anush Dilanyan, 2016

So we were left with no options, but to treat her at home, spend hours talking her into the reality, reminding her how to do the easiest daily tasks, until she refused to leave her bed one day. I knew what this supposed to mean. I was losing her. She spent another couple of weeks motionless. She didn’t exist anymore; only her body felt the suffering of the stupid, pointless illness.

It was hard. I can’t forgive myself for the moments when I hated her; I wished her dead. I did. It was so hard, and I know now that what I meant was that I hated the thing happening to her. But still, our life changed the way no one could ever imagine. My mom quit her job. I had to study, work a full-time job I hated, spend evenings trying to reason with her, then get some sleep for the next day I didn’t want to wake up to. We were alone. No one could help, and all we could do is to make sure her best until the very end.

She was always prepared for a holiday. But not this time. This time I left for some New Year shopping, though it was a tough year, she would never, in clear mind, never forgive not having a proper celebration.

I remember the moment my phone rang. I answered my phone, it was silent for a moment, and then the next moment my mom started crying and shouting something indistinct. It was clear to me. She was gone.

I ran out of the shop, screaming on the top of my voice. I hardly remember getting home. I opened the door, and there was silence. My mom was sitting by her bed. I knew this is not the first time I am seeing her leave. She found her peace.

Life goes on. I renovated her room and call it to mine now, though it will always be hers in my mind. She was great; she was my very best grandma. All I know that me being there for her is just a payback for all the years she has been there for me. And yeah, we both loved emerald green, or maybe she did, and I just joined the club because of her, who knows.

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