1 year ago today our grandmother passed away as she finally lost her battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.
This was the disease that started by making her forget that she had already bought milk, then it made her forget where she was, our names, who we were, who she was. She forgot to sleep, wake up, eat and drink.
In the end she forgot to breathe.
I got the news as a text message in a small apartment in Stockholm. Alone and far away from my loved ones I felt powerless and guilty. I cried and regretted not having seen her and spent more time with her in her final days.
But I know exactly why I didn’t.
The last time I saw Grandma, was at her birthday in the wonderful nursing home that our mother had effectively bullied everyone in the health care system to get her. People were there to celebrate her, even if they don’t necessarily get along outside those walls – they put their differences aside, petty or otherwise and sat there with Grandma Roma. Or rather what was left of her… I talked to her and she would reply – random words in random order to no end, glazed look in her now grey eyes with not a hint of recognition. And I realized then and there, that my grandmother, our grandmother and all she was, had died.
Roma didn’t have an easy start on life – She was kicked out of her home and sent off to the big city at age 14. She fell into one marriage and had a child (something my generation only found out much later) and after a very short time left this family behind and started another – Ours. With Valdemar (Granddad) she had another two children – Diana (whom I call mum) and Walther. Many years after the passing of granddad and, I believe, the passing of her first husband, she manned up herself and got in touch with Kurt, her son of the first marriage. Something that became a joy for us all as Kurt, mild mannered and with a heart the size of a whale, just welcomed her back into his life as had she never left.
Kurt fell to cancer in March 2010.
Like all parents, I am sure, Roma could be a pain in the ass. She was hard headed, stubborn and had her opinions ready for anyone who would listen (and for a few that wouldn’t, too) – I fondly remember that whenever she used the terms: “Og så sagde jeg til hende – Nu skal jeg sige dig en ting, sagde jeg:” – (and then I said to her – I’ll tell you this, I said:) – I always felt that it probably meant: “I didn’t say anything, I bit my tongue and nodded politely, but what I should have said was:” and that would be followed by an imaginary ass-kicking for the subject in question, whether it be the guy down the shops, the lady at the bus stop or indeed anyone who had crossed her path wrongly. It still makes me smile.
She made the best frikadeller the world has ever seen. She would make them for us, our friends and she would even make them for bands that I worked with. The taste of Rødgrød med Fløde is the taste of Roma’s kitchen, odd spoons, wax table cloth and half’n’half milk. She entered me into Wheel Of Fortune on TV once. (I won a petangue set, chocolates and an Anaïs Anaïs perfume series). She would walk my Sunday paper route with me when I was 11 years old. She would ride her bicycle way into her seventies. She tried valiantly to remember all the names of all the band members that I dragged through our kitchen – The band that she never forgot ? The Burning Primitive. “Such nice boys..” – Her favourite musician-friend of mine: Las Nissen. “Oooh, he is such a handsome man!” She took up learning English – not really to learn English as much as to have her grandsons teach her. She adored Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé’s “Barcelona” album. She believed what the tabloids said about muslims taking all our jobs, but at the same time she was best buddies with Abdul in the corner shop. “He’s not like the others!” – proving again that xenophobia is best fought up close with coffee and falafel.
She had a laugh that sounded like someone tickled a baboon with an icepick.
But most important of all – she loved us all and we loved her.
All this, all that character and all that life, was drained from her by this soul-sucking disease that robs us of the one thing that makes us who we are – Our memories. And as her memories faded into a grey thick fog of uncertainty and mood swings, so did Roma Selma Graakjær.
I want to believe that she was in there, at least some of the way. I really do.
I want to feel that she was clinging on for dear life to stay with us in body and mind. Even though I know that the pure nature of the affliction made it impossible. So I do regret not being there for her. I am not proud of my absence.
But I also understand our mother’s final mercy on us children.
She felt that we should remember grandma for who she was and not for what she had become – and for that I am eternally grateful.
Cause I do remember. And I hope you all do to.
Grandma loved my girlfriend Catherine even though she never understood a word she said (says something about the quality of English teachers you can get with frikadeller and rødgrød).
In Catherine’s family it is tradition for everyone to meet once a year on the day of passing of the most recent elder. You eat, drink, pray and remember.
We don’t do that – We go on with our lives and sometime get this sinking feeling that something isn’t what it used to be and then, when they sing that song around the christmas tree that reminds us of the ones we lost, we shed a tear and get on with it. We tell ourselves that family snapshots and christmas cards is enough to keep them with us or, alternatively, we put our faith in the belief that they are still here or indeed in heaven or somewhere else where their memory is kept forever. The truth is that they live on in our memories and only there. It is ironic that the thing that was taken from grandma is also the only thing that will ever truly erase Roma, Grandfather Jørgen who left us in February and Kurt from this world. It is us not remembering them and talking about them and their stories.
This is my feeble first attempt. Feel free to join in.
One of the first things Catherine ever learnt to say in Danish is something she said to our grandma. It has since become the sign-off for my brother Frederik, my sister Anja, Catherine and I when we hang up the phone or part ways at an airport. It embodies my feelings for Roma, Jørgen, Kurt, Evelyn, Valdemar and all those those who left anyone of you – and it is not because I believe in an afterlife where we will all meet and play bingo. It is because we will eventually all just be an anecdote in someone else’s arsenal of stories about people who aren’t here anymore. And if we are lucky, it’s a good story with an awesome ending and some funny bits to keep the great-great grandkids entertained.
See you around, Grandma.
Vi ses, Mormor.