A Surprising Reflection

“Young Woman”-Edouard Bisson

I wondered how I could miss something so obvious. This may seem like a facile observation to some of you out there since humans are perceptually limited, and there is arguably infinite possibility within the laws of nature. Still, I consider my perception one of my strengths, and the surprising observation was about someone very close to me. The twist in the situation is that I didn’t see it until I came over to care for her at the beginning of her dementia.

The resemblance isn’t the dementia, but recognizing it at such a time certainly caused some worry. Seeing oneself in a person who is suffering from a brain malady isn’t a situation anyone really wants to experience since questions come up about the integrity of one’s own mental fabric. This recognition of similarity at such a stressful and unusual time, as the onset of dementia is for the sufferer and the family, is also complicated by the denial that first greets the problem. As I recognized myself in her, I had to grapple with thoughts that “maybe grandma just needs some rest,” “maybe it’s temporary,” “she’s just old,” or “maybe it isn’t really that bad.” Realizing that her dementia isn’t a passing thing occurred after a few long visits, and somehow, in the middle of all of it, came the recognition that I am like a reflection of her.

Let me explain: my grandmother is extremely smart, but unlike me, she is creeped out by obscurity and excessive complexity. I couldn’t see how much I grew to be like her because of this major difference. In all the other ways, we are eerily alike. She is a constant blur of motion, even when ill, constantly cleaning the house and being productive. My past roommates can attest that my modus operandi is one of almost perpetual motion and productivity. Both her and I have times of relaxation, but our hyperactivity is so pronounced that it is obvious. Both of us put our energy to good use. We both educated ourselves and work hard. When she was younger, new to the country and the English language, she raised herself up from housewife to court transcriber and later a jeweler. I raised myself up from being a long-time tutor to professor, editor, and writer; motherhood is also on the agenda. My grandmother is a language learner. She is fluent in English and Spanish, understands French and Italian, and studied Latin and Greek. I am only fluent in English but have studied and can understand multiple languages. Like most Leos, my grandmother has always been a bit vain. We share a love of fashion and makeup, and it was thanks to her that I started moisturizing at seven years old. She modeled healthy, homemade eating and consistently walked for exercise. Unlike my parents, I too prioritize healthy, home cooked meals and exercise.

The frightening thing, however, is that we share other similarities that I couldn’t see because in my mind she is like an angel while my enthusiasm for liberty and my former willingness to follow impulse testifies to the fact that I’m all too human. She’s independent and feisty. I am too but to the point where I lived a misspent youth. She’s extremely stubborn. I’d like to think of myself as rationally flexible and open, but the difficult truth is that I am as stubborn as she. She can be dramatic and creates ornate strategies to deal with life. I don’t see myself as dramatic, but other people might think I am, and ornate strategies for life’s difficulties count as planning in my eyes. Everyone has a shadow, and I recognize that I sometimes like to dodge mine. However, when I watched her hide her dementia to the point where it seemed like she was functioning normally, I realized that I would deal with the situation the same way. She’s extremely good at keeping up appearances, and after my dark night of the soul in 2020, I realize that I am too. While those traits may seem positive, despite their usefulness, there is a downside to that approach — mainly, that when one is too good at keeping up appearances, people don’t realize when help is needed. Finally, my grandmother is extremely loving and trusting almost to a failing, which caused her to wait year after year on investments that never seemed to yield a return. I will say that loving devotion is a good thing, but there are limits, and when one trusts too much, we place ourselves in harm’s way potentially. I too have habitually trusted to excess although in the recent past I have grown a healthier sense of skepticism.

Ever since I was a child, all things considered, my grandmother and the whole family insisted I was just like grandma, and I obstinately refused to see it. Grandmother’s ahead of the times minimalism and love of neutrals and pastels made it difficult for me to see the obvious: that I’m pretty much her clone. When I came to help her out after the family realized she had dementia, I couldn’t help but see myself when looking at her, and it was like lightening striking. I hadn’t seen her for two years because of corona virus lockdowns and even before that, our visits were fewer than I would have liked because she wanted solitude while dealing with some health issues. When I finally reunited with her, it was like discovering a missing piece of the puzzle. As she rushed around the kitchen cleaning, disappearing from one room only to appear in the next while applying makeup and maintaining an intense and fast-paced though somewhat odd line of conversation, I came to see her and myself in an entirely new light.



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