Making Memories

Posted: February 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

This is a brief personal post about my family, specifically my dear, sweet Grandma. I scribbled down most of what follows in about 15 minutes as soon as I got to work yesterday morning. I had to get it down on paper right away. Someday I’ll post some links to Alzheimer’s information that I’ve come across, including some amazing and touching Radiolab episodes dealing with Alzheimer’s.


“She is an Alzheimer’s patient. She no longer maintains a narrative of her life, but her experiencing self is still sensitive to beauty and gentleness”

– Daniel Kahneman
Thinking, Fast and Slow


I heard this quote while driving in to work this morning, listening to the audiobook version of Mr. Kahneman’s fascinating book, and it struck me and nearly brought me to tears. I wrote it down the first chance I got.

Yesterday was Grandma’s 92nd birthday. I was fortunate enough to be able to be up at the lake to celebrate it with her, along with my wife and daughter and my parents. Auntie Lisa was a wonderful host as usual. It was great to see Auntie Kathy and Dennis as well, doing their best to really enjoy the family company after the hell they have been through and continue to deal with. Grandpa was looking great. It’s hard to put into words how wonderful it was to see how happy he looked when Nadia ran to him yesterday morning to give him a big hug. He brought out old photo albums and could name every one of his old Army buddies and long-gone friends and family members.

Mr. Kahneman’s statement struck me because in just 20 words he is able to beautifully explain Alzheimer’s – both what it has taken away from Grandma and what it has left her.

“She no longer maintains a narrative of her life.” You and I take our memories for granted. They help us to have meaningful life experiences that aren’t clouded in confusion, and often crippling fear. Imagine waking up lost – not only physically lost, but lost in time with no frame of reference. Grandma’s past is mostly gone, and what’s left is scrambled and scary. She clings to what she knows. Recognition flutters in and out like a butterfly. She may be suddenly excited to see you, but you soon realize she thinks you’re someone else. Her smile is wide and genuine and she is so happy, so you go along with it and smile back. She can’t form stories of her experiences any longer. Today she probably doesn’t recall our visit.

“Her experiencing self is still sensitive to beauty and gentleness.” She knew we were all there to be with her. She seemed to feel the warmth of family. She couldn’t thank us enough for coming, even if she couldn’t quite place who we were. We each sat and talked with her for a while. Each time I leaned in for a hug or kiss her face would light up with another warm smile.

This is my Grandma. I have so many great memories of her that I cherish. Alzheimer’s is very frightening to me. I want my own memories to last and comfort me in my later years, not confuse and haunt me. I want to remember my Grandma as the loving family matriarch that she always has been. I love you Grandma. Happy Birthday.

  1. Doug says:

    Great post Dean. I love Kahneman’s quote too. I hope you all had a great time upnorth for grandma’s 92nd birthday. Wish I could have been there. ❤

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