Do you ever wonder what memories will remain with you the longest? What will hold the most importance to you? What you will grasp tightly if your memory begins slipping in old age?
My grandmother is suffering from Alzheimer’s and is beginning to sharply decline. The names of many of my siblings have slipped from her memory, sometimes along with the fact that they are even related to her or that she knows them at all.
Blessedly she still knows me. But she hangs onto me with one memory — our trip to London in 2005.
When I was studying abroad in Rome, we came up with this grand scheme of having a rendezvous in London during my fall break. I would fly from Rome, she from California, and we would enjoy a wonderful five days gallivanting around the city.
Oh, and did we!
It was so cold in London. I didn’t pack enough warm clothing because I hadn’t anticipated visiting countries with colder climates than Italy when I left the States. One of our first stops, then, had to be to Harrod’s to pick up wool hats. We found the perfect purple-hued ones and donned them together throughout the whole trip.
With my newly gained knowledge of architectural eras in Rome, we visited the magnificent sites of London while I spoke of what we were viewing. We both found it fascinating. I remember St. Paul’s especially; it had a great mix of different eras, having undergone many renovations over the years. And it was done well, which can’t be said of many places.
We saw Les Miserables. Set on a revolving stage, the spectacle was a sight to see. We could not miss an opportunity for such grand music! It was hard to choose just one show in a town known for its theatre, but I’m convinced we chose the right one.
Our walk across the Tower Bridge gave us a gorgeous view of the city and the River Thames. We took the long way home so we could make our way across it. It was a beautiful day despite the biting cold. The majesty of that suspension bridge was unrivaled by any we had seen at home.
Since it was less than a month until Christmas, we did what we do best together — planned and shopped for unique gifts for the family. A wooden sword from the Tower of London, an ancient Egypt book from the Natural History Museum, a Sherlock Holmes hat from Baker Street, an ornament of a guardsman in his tall hat from the palace.
This mutual fond memory is the one my grandmother holds onto and won’t let go. Whenever I visit her now, she speaks of how we deftly made our way through the Tube from one London site to another, with barely a moment’s pause to enjoy a cup of tea. (Although we certainly did that, too — a full high tea with champagne included.)
For a while she would talk fondly of returning. Now she speaks of it so she won’t forget.
She associates me with her favorite city in the world. And I am honored.
There are few things as painful as watching someone you love decline in health. It seems as if they are falling away piece by piece. But that is far from the truth. The memories my grandmother has made are imprinted on her very being, although she can’t fully recall them now. All the events that have shaped her life are an integral part of her that can never be taken away. Her stubbornness, her independence, her adventurous spirit, her love of beauty — all these things crafted on her soul still shine through as her memory fades.
And even if she gets to the point where she is no longer able to speak, no longer able to move, her beautiful self will still keep and reflect in some way these things that make her the wonderful, unique individual that she is. Her God-given dignity and worth will never fade.
“Do you remember when we went to London?” she asks.
I do. And I hope she hangs onto that moment for as long as she can.