The Pain Of Living Breaks My Heart

The Pain Of Living Breaks My Heart

My grandfather has dementia. He is 92.

He is at that stage now where he is aware that he is faltering. He feels helpless to make decisions and cannot follow complex social situations. Some days, he cannot remember how to dress properly. He is afraid of making mistakes. He lives in fear of behaving in any way that would have him taken away from my grandmother.

Over the weekend, people tried to cajole him into eating food he did not want. He was carted this way and that until he was tired. Near the end of the evening, he was sitting in a chair on one side of the living room facing a rabble of family. Everyone was talking at once and laughing and moving around. I was exhausted and could barely make sense of them, so I sat down next to my grandfather.

"I can't follow any of this," he said, as a way to apologize, as a way to tell me I could go.

"I can't either," I said. "They're very loud."

And then, quite uncharacteristically, I grabbed for his hand. I don't touch my family very often. He stumbled with his, unsure what to do. When I was a little kid, he would always blush when I hugged him. He was rarely demonstrative.

I pushed our fingers clumsily in between each other and squeezed our hands together in a joint knot.

"I just want to sit next to you," I said. "I love you. We don't have to talk."

I stroked the bone at his wrist for a moment with my finger.

This quiet man – the one who had prayed over the holiday meals of my childhood and whom I had watched sort tools in his shop with the earth floor, whose stoic expression and shy manner kept me at a respectful distance – this man shuddered with heavy emotion. His shoulder rose and shook and fell against my arm.

I wanted to carry him somewhere quiet and spoon with him in the dark.

This part in which he knows and is still so lost is too cruel. This part that makes us say goodbyes not because anyone is leaving but because someone is helpless against losing himself after a long life makes me doubt. How can there be meaning here when the brain that records it is taken away?

We won't remember. I want to think that memory is important, but I increasingly doubt its worth.

While everyone else was putting on coats and heading out to cars, my grandmother pushed my grandfather's old shoes onto his feet, jambing them down onto his toes and over his heels.

She paused and slouched and let the laces dangle in her fingers.

My uncle came to tie the other shoe, but something had already broken in me and drifted.

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