In May of 2010 I lost my grandmother to complications of Alzheimer ’s disease. Along with the grief I felt watching my grandmother struggle with her memory loss, I also grieved for my mother as I watched her loose her mother to this heart wrenching illness.
Perhaps the most painful grief I felt was watching my own children and my sister’s children slowly loose the great grandmother who had rocked and cared for all of them throughout their short lives. The amazing woman who once knew everything about them slowly lost her ability to recall their names and who they belonged to…but she never forgot them.
Sitting in her chair in the living room she would ask about them constantly. She would describe them with such loving words, “the adorable little boy with blue eyes,” or “that beautiful little girl with brown hair.” Alzheimer’s may have caused her to forget some important things, but it never was able to take from her what mattered the most. Our young children would bring her books to read to them and would snuggle up with her to watch their favorite movie or cartoon.
She may not have remembered their names, but she never forgot their souls.
As a therapist I knew the outcome of Alzheimer ’s disease and how to accept what was happening to my grandmother. As a mother I was at a loss to explain this very adult concept to my young children.
I wanted my children to understand that their great grandmother’s struggle to remember things about them was not something she had done intentionally and that they would always be in her heart and deep in her mind. I knew that she wanted them to always know how much she loved them and treasured them.
I wrote the poem below, Maps to the Treasure, to help explain that love and her struggle with Alzheimer’s disease to the many children, old and young, whose life she had touched. It was the last of my stories I was able to share with her while she still had those beautiful moments of clarity.
I hope this story brings comfort to those who have loved ones fighting this disease and understanding to the children who are priceless treasures in the minds of those fighting.
Maps to the Treasure
A Story of Alzheimer’s Disease
By Sarah White
A long time ago in lands far away,
Pirates would gather their treasures each day.
They would keep jewelry and trinkets and gold by the pound
And sneak off at night to bury it deep in the ground.
What was special to each pirate, well I really can’t say,
But I imagine it was the little things that brightened their day.
A big diamond ring or some small little charms,
Perhaps they had bracelets that could hang from their arms.
A necklace, a ruby, a bottle of pop?
Or a small leather bag with coins to the top?
Each pirate would chose the treasures they liked the best,
The ones that shined brighter than all of the rest.
They would love them, carry them and show them to others,
They would share them with friends, brothers, sisters and mothers.
But when it would get dark they would sneak off at night
And bury their treasures so they were all out of plain sight.
Knowing how valuable soon this treasure would be,
They would search for a place perhaps under a tree.
They would lurk in the forest or on a beach hill,
Yes hiding the treasure was really a skill!
Only the pirate knew where their treasure was hidden,
Because bringing a friend was strictly forbidden!
The pirates would draw maps so that they could remember
Because chances are they would forget by December.
Back to their beds the pirates would surely go,
And they’d hide the maps so that no one would know.
For years the pirates would return to these places,
And boy each time it would sure light up their faces.
They would look at each treasure and hold it so tight
And dream about the treasure as they slept at night.
In the morning sun they’d be back in their beds,
With visions of happiness filling their heads.
Over and over they would look at the maps they made,
And for some of the pirates the maps started to fade.
A few times they would look in the wrong spot
But slowly for some this happened a lot.
Some days were good and some days were bad,
Some older pirates would get so mad!
After searching and searching and still not succeeding,
It is clear that some help was what those pirates were needing.
A hint or a clue is what they were demanding.
Their families tried to be so understanding.
Some pirates maps were clear while others were blurry,
Because of this it would cause pirates to worry.
Some of the treasures never were found,
They are still buried deep in the ground.
My grandma plays pirate and I know that it is true,
She has a map like the pirates in this story do.
It isn’t on paper or easy to find,
The “x-marks the spot” is so deep in her mind.
Mom talks about the treasures that grandma has hid,
She started collecting them when she was a kid!
The treasures aren’t riches or diamonds and things,
Her box is not filled with gold bars or big rings.
My grandmother’s treasures aren’t items to sell,
In fact I’ve seen a few and know them quite well.
You see her treasures cannot be held in your hands,
And hiding her treasures was not part of her plans.
Sometimes a map to the treasure will just get too worn,
Remember it was created the day she was born.
And those treasures you ask, well what could they be?
Most of her treasures are memories of me!
Watching her search for her treasures can sometimes be tough
But just knowing I am in there is always enough!