For someone who had just celebrated his 75th birthday, my grandfather was strong and energetic. He would sometimes crack the lamest ‘dad jokes’ towards his eldest son (my father) and I couldn’t help but howl with laughter as he delivered the punchline.
My grandfather was a kindhearted man. He would sometimes give me gifts out of the blue. Once when I was 6, he gave me a red headband which I constantly wore until I reached middle school.
When I was 17, he gave me a gold wristwatch, which at that time, was way too flashy for my taste.
Recently, right after I graduated from university, he gave me a leather-bound, English-translated version of the Holy Qur’an, which I keep close on my bedside table to this day.
My grandfather was also a stern man. He gave some lasting advice towards my younger cousin for not achieving sufficient grades to enter the local university. My cousin was red-faced in shame, but when he retook his exams, his grades jumped from the sad Ds (as my grandfather would call it) to Bs.
One day, I saw him sitting alone in the living room of his house, staring at the blank television, muttering to himself. When he heard my presence, he explained to me that he couldn’t seem to find the remote controller to the television anywhere.
I began searching for it. When I realised that it certainly wasn’t in the living room, I went to the kitchen and saw my aunt cooking. On the counter top, I spotted it. The elusive remote controller.
“Who left this here?” I asked my aunt.
“Oh. Your grandfather was in here a moment ago when he wanted to grab the newspapers. I’m guessing he forgot to take it with him.”
I scratched my head. I guess he was just forgetful. It must be his age catching up to him, I thought casually. I shrugged it off.
As the year passed by, I overheard my uncles and aunts talking about how my grandfather was being unusually absent-minded in the last few months.
One late afternoon, I was in the living room with him as I munched unashamedly on my snacks. He was talking about how he was proud of my niece (his great grandchild, I might add!) and that she was able to ride a two-wheeled bicycle by the age of 7.
Half an hour later, he repeated himself and told me how he was proud of his great-grandchild, almost word for word.
I cut him off halfway.
“Grandpa. You literally just told me this half an hour ago.”
My grandfather grew quiet and then slowly muttered, “Did I?”
He seemed confused, and so was I. It was new to me.
After that moment, I rarely had the chance to visit him until half a year later. He was struggling with his health and he was admitted to the hospital for treatment.
My family and I went into his ward and my father greeted him. It wasn’t a pleasant sight to see as I saw him fitted with an IV drip and lying on the hospital bed, looking weary and lost.
“Are we going home soon?” asked my grandfather, looking up at his son.
“Once you’re better, we’ll take you home,” said my dad, taking the seat next to the bed.
“Hey, Grandpa,” I said casually.
He craned forward to see me better. His eyes sort of… Glazed over for a moment, then his face split into a small smile, “Ah, my granddaughter.”
I grinned, trying to shove the worry away that was gnawing at me. How difficult it was for him to recall my name, when it was only a year ago that he was summoning me from the kitchen using my full name.
A few days after, my grandfather was good to go home — but not without bad news. In my lifetime, I could count the number of times I have heard the name of the bad news with my fingers. Until that very fateful moment, where the good doctor sat down with one of my uncles.
“Alzheimer’s disease,” said the doctor.
I tuned out moments later. My ears were ringing, confirming a known fear that was hiding at the back of my mind. I suppose I was aware of it before the doctor even mentioned it, but as I looked at my grandfather, who was fiddling with his IV drip — it was hard for me to accept.
He was facing the later stages of Alzheimer’s when he was very close to his 80th birthday. His health quickly deteriorated after the diagnosis and he was eventually bedridden. His speech was impaired and slow.
When I came into his room, my grandfather slowly acknowledged my presence. His tired eyes slowly wandered to my face. I knew he was thinking. He was also wondering.
“Who are…?” he started.
Suddenly, my courage left me. What if he really couldn’t remember me? I stood there, letting him fit the pieces of the puzzle together.
Then he uttered my sister’s name. I was surprised, slightly. But I was also relieved.
“No, it’s me,” I told him my name.
“Ah, yes, the little sister. My granddaughter.”
I stayed by his side for a while, realising that he had changed so much in such a short time. He repeated some of his conversations and I let him. Although when he started repeating it for the fifth time, I changed the subject. I told him about my work.
“Oh? You’re already working? When did you graduate?”
“Three years ago, Grandpa,” I sighed, getting up from my seat. “It’s getting late, I should be going.”
“Okay, okay, sure. Make sure you study hard, alright? Get good grades.”
“Alright,” I said, sadly. “Bye, Grandpa.”
A week later, I dropped by again for another visit. This time, he was recalling his childhood memory to me. I sat up straight as he described his childhood, as though he was vividly seeing it behind his glassy eyes. He was talking enthusiastically, his words slurring.
Then his eyes glazed over. He looked at me and asked me who I was.
My relatives would sometimes stop by with a booklet of Yaasin, encouraging anyone to recite the surah whenever we were free. I was there, with my cousin, quietly reciting next to his bed while my grandfather was sleeping. We all knew what was coming.
I was at work when I received the phone call from my dad. He told me that my grandfather stopped breathing. My ears were ringing again.
All I could think of at that moment was that really lame joke about bears my grandfather made 5 years ago. And as I laughed weakly at the recollection of this certain memory, the tears fell for a great man that I once knew who lost his life and his memories to Alzheimer’s disease.