By Anna Tabet |

I lived with my grandma for 13 years, but I never really knew her.

When I was one, my grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Because of this, I don’t have any memory of who she was prior to her illness. All I have are pictures. Pictures that provide me with a glimpse of the strong and bright woman she was. But sadly, pictures are only frozen memories of past times that, in moments like these, no longer ring true.

When I think about my grandma, I see a quiet and fragile woman who was never fully there. Although she seemed present in the moments I spoke with her, I always saw in her eyes the blanketed confusion of her attempting to recognize who I was.

Alzheimer’s is a truly devastating illness. Patients with the disease not only eventually lose their lives, but they lose themselves along the way too. Their inability to remember how to do certain tasks usually leads to their depleting health; however, their inability to remember who they are and those they love leads to a loss of self as well.

For 13 years of my life, I lived with a woman who not only didn’t know who I was, but didn’t know who she was.

My heart broke every time I was around her. I felt like I couldn’t do anything to help her. My entire family was fighting for someone who didn’t even know she was in a battle. But it never stopped us from trying.

For me, I tried to search for moments where her true self shined through. I wanted to know her, but I knew I couldn’t do it by focusing on who the disease caused her to be. So, I turned to my dad.

My dad told me stories upon stories about my grandma. One of the most impactful things I learned about her is that she was actually quite the rebel. Growing up, her family was poor and only had enough money to educate the men in the family. However, that didn’t stop my grandma from wanting to be educated. She taught herself how to read in Arabic, and later in her life when she moved to America, how to read in English as well. Her lack of a formal education didn’t stop her from pursuing a career either. After teaching herself how to knit and sew, she worked as a seamstress, making her one of the only working women in her town.

Hearing stories about my grandma made me feel like I really knew her. Her accomplishments in life, despite the odds consistently being stacked against her, spoke to how deeply courageous she was. I was merely given a glimpse into my grandma’s past and was left in awe and feeling sincerely proud to be related to her. I felt like for the first time, when I thought about her or looked at her, I was able to see beyond a woman losing her life to a disease.

My grandma was a working mother of two boys who never apologized for saying what she thought and doing what she wanted. Although she was weak in her final moments, her fragility does not erase the tenacity and strength she showed in life. I will always be sad knowing I never got to meet the incredible woman that I hear about, but I will forever be grateful for every second I shared with her.