mandag 7. juli 2014

I dream of Grandma

Last night I saw something in my sleep. A sort of dream.

There were only two people in my dream - my grandmother and I. She was in her - now- permanent Alzheimer's "haze" and we were having a surreal chat as we seem to have a lot lately. In the middle of this chat, her eyes came to life and she used a phrase she never uses anymore. Something connected to her pre-Alzheimer's self. What she said is not important, it was the way she said it, and that following that phrase we had a conversation about a movie star she remembered vividly and suddenly she was there, my grandmother, and she knew me and she knew the world and herself and then, in a split second she was lost again.

So I wake up and my whole arm is numb, apparently I had slept on it, and I start shaking it violently as if I am shaking away the thought that my grandmother will ever be who she was again .. and I am crying loudly as if it was the first time, but as I feel the blood returning to my arm again, the crying stops and in I turn silent. And then I fall asleep.

Last week was hectic. I was back home, in Mykonos, and it was summer and the sun was out and my friends and family were there and we swam and tanned and ate good food. And every day I would spend a little time with grandma, some days more than others, but knowing that she will only get worse, I need to see her, even just a little bit, I need to fill my head with moments of her.

We have been taking care of her for approx. four years now. The last year and a half has been more intense, since her Alzheimer's progress seems to accelerate - her kids; my uncle, my aunt and my mom, have been taking turns on looking after her - one or two months at a time. So in October - November my mom and aunt went on holiday and I said I would look after her, I had just finished university and I was not working, so staying in Mykonos to take care of my grandmother sounded like a dream. Love all around. Sometimes it really felt like a dream.

I was exhausted. I worked at a fruit and veg-shop from 8-2 every day, and the rest of my day was dedicated to grandma. It's not much, I know. But after a week, I started feeling it. Some days I left for an hour or two to go running, and I knew she was sleeping and it would be fine. Yes, it was hard. The emotional aspect of it was the hardest, and the most difficult to deal with, because I was alone with her. But it was all worth it. To take care of a family member with Alzheimer's, or any other disease for that matter, you have to look past your own limitations and "zone of intimacy" issues, I made jokes about it and she always laughed! "Look what it's come down to, the granddaughter changing the grandmothers nappies! Isn't it meant to be the other way around?!" And she would burst with laughter, probably because she would see the irony sometimes but also because I was laughing and she thought I was funny.. It's hard to know. Alzheimer's does that to you. You try and fail or succeed and then you take it from there.

At least to a certain point.

Last week was hectic. Grandma's condition has worsened, so up until last week, we used to cut up her food and eat with her, checking how much she put in her mouth and whether she swallowed it or not. I don't remember exactly which day it was, but as I am sitting with her at the table, and she is eating, I see her trying to grab more food than she can handle and putting it all in her mouth - at once. Yes, like a child would do. And as I stop her from doing those things - a thought passes through my mind - if she continues like this, we will be facing a choking incident. I look at her and she takes a bite, then she drops her arms down and her eyes turn to glass, they are open but she is gone, and she drops down into the chair and towards the floor. I react immediately - it was as if I saw it coming - and for a split second I try the Heimlich on her afraid that I might break her rib bones, but as I know that my dad is next door and he is a doctor, I shout like I've never shouted before: DAAAAAAAAAD!!!!!! DAD!!!!! My dad reacts immediately and runs to us, he hits her hard on her back and does the Heimlich, twice, and puts his fingers in her mouth and grabs the three bites of meat she had stored in her mouth.

And she is back.

This all probably happened in 10-15 seconds. But it felt like hours. As she wakes up, my panic sets in, and I run outside, hiding my tears from her. My mom hugs me, she is crying too, and says: "Someone who knows needs to take over."

We can no longer take care of her. She has gotten to a point where she needs constant medical supervision, and we have accepted it.

It was all decided quickly. My mom went to see this amazing nursing home in Athens that deals with Alzheimer's, and she booked her in. She is there now. She has left her house, her life in Mykonos and a part of herself. I think it was supposed to be like this, it all happened so quickly that we didn't have time for goodbyes and closures and all of these things that would have made it even harder.

We all know that she will never come back to her house, and it feels like a chapter of our life has ended too. So in a way, it is an ending.

But it is also a beginning.

onsdag 2. april 2014

Black Mirror // I am no poet

On a train from Trondheim, 
going to Oslo, 
I can't help but notice my surroundings; 
eyes glued on screens, 
infinite scrolling done by fingers aging in a vacuum. 
I am a part of it too. 

But I never knew how lonely it feels. 
Being the one looking up from these backlit mirrors. 

An act of narcissism that we don't see, 
as we stare back at ourselves. 

This is isolation. 

Can you see the irony? 

lørdag 22. februar 2014

On Grandmothers and Alzheimer's

On a bad day it is hard for me to remember what she used to be like before her illness overtook her.

On a good day she becomes an adjusted version of herself again.
But the good days are the hardest. 

When my grandmother first started forgetting, we all dismissed it as something natural for a person her age. Flimsiness, we thought, gets more apparent as one ages. Accepting her having Alzheimer's was hard, but as her memories faded away, it became clear that it was something we could no longer ignore. 

Writing, thinking, talking and dealing with Alzheimer's is difficult. It is presented as an illness, yet it seems to affect every single patient differently, with no obvious way of treating or handling it. Sure there are general notions of measures to take when it has consumed a person - but there seems to be no pattern.

Anyway. I am no researcher or scientist or doctor. I am simply a granddaughter of an amazing woman who got sick. 

Let me tell you about her: 

My grandmother has many talents. She is incredibly bright, well-articulated and well read. She is an amazing cook - although her musicality probably exceeds her cooking skills. She has a beautiful singing voice and she speaks three languages. She is a good mother - maybe an even better grandmother (I guess people learn from their mistakes as parents), a hard worker and a compassionate human being. Her life has been hard, at times; marrying at 19, almost dying while giving birth to her first child (of three), keeping two cafeterias and a pastry shop for years, working an office job while simultaneously renting rooms to tourists in the summer, battling her husband's addiction to gambling // her life has not been easy. Despite all these things, my grandmother has always showered us with love, a love impossible to put into words, a deep, pure love. 

I have many memories of her before the Alzheimer's - but my favorite ones are these: sitting by her kitchen table as children, "helping" her make meatballs, surrounded by the heavenly smell of heavenly food, listening to her singing, laughing at her jokes. She has always had a great sense of humor, my grandmother. And there is nothing like the smell of a grandmother's food. It is made with such affection, love and life experience - it truly is unique; at least for a grandchild. 

It started with her re-telling the same stories. It then progressed to her forgetting important details of stories, and mixing them together. Two years ago, I remember her trying to tell me how she met my grandfather, but she couldn't quite figure it out. A year ago she told me she wanted to see her mother again, "Let's jump on the ferry and visit her", she said. "Your mother has passed on", I told her, in a soft voice. She looked at me with puppy eyes filled with surprise and fear "How do you know? Who told you?", she replied. After that, the rest of us agreed, as a family, to never tell her that some of her loved ones had passed away. There is no purpose in making her grieve time and time again. 

She is a different Maria now. Surrounded by old and new photographs where she hides her remaining memories, she lives her life, day by day. We share moments of laughter, tears, anger and frustration. We have found that music soothes her, and even though she can't remember song titles, as soon as we start singing, she immediately joins in, remembering all the lyrics. It really is remarkable. We cherish both her old and new self, adjusting our behavior on a day to day basis, depending on her mood when she wakes up. 

Sometimes I struggle trying to remember her as she was. But being a part of this stage of her life is a gift, even with the hard days, I treasure every moment I have with her. Throughout her life, she has been a devoted wife, and a loving mother and grandmother. The least we can do, is try to make it up to her. 

So.. to everyone who has been affected by Alzheimer's in one way or another. I know how you feel. But what I have realized through this, is that grieving is pointless. After admitting she was ill, I grieved. But there is a time to grieve, and it is not now. No matter how hard it can be, treat each day as a blessing. Life is a series of events, of phases we go through as human beings. Dementia can be a part of it. There's no recipe on how to deal with it - except living in the present and not in the past.

You can find some info on Dementia and Alzheimer's here.

Generation Z and Mobile Politics

Lately I've been thinking about my generation. Born in the late 80's, early 90's, we are torn between the worlds of the first mobile phones and the smartphones, between MS DOS and Snow Leopard, between casette, the CD, or the mp3. Riding the tube in London, observing how everyone clings to their iPhones, like Gollum to "his precious", playing games to make time pass quicker, blocking the rest of the world out with in-ear headphones as their barriers.

The fast evolution in technology has made me, the inbetweener, confused, frustrated and sometimes, worried. Social networking sites have created an alternate reality, alternate lives for people who sought them, and for those who didn't. The constant need to be online troubles me, as I am also captivated by it. Having an iPhone meant, for me, giving into a new lifestyle that has made me a passive, and an, at times, antisocial person. And I'm just starting to realize it.

Twitter and Facebook do make our lives easier, in some aspects, we can choose to stay in touch with people from our past, we can update friends and family all at once just by one click of a mouse, and we can upload photos and share our memories in public. Blogs act as online diaries where we pour our thoughts out and serve them to ourselves and everyone else on a silver platter, and YouTube serves as constant source of entertainment. The revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria were and are very dependent on these social networking sites, and their function in that aspect is appreciated. At the same time, their function in the Western World seems to be different. These sites serve as platforms where the Average Joe gets his 15 minutes of fame, by tweeting a funny sentence, a witty line, or re-tweeting other peoples comments, becoming increasingly aware of the fact that he needs to sell himself. These are merely my observations and comments, but having used Twitter more and more lately, as I am observing others in its use, I am also observing myself.

I started thinking about all this when I saw Black Mirror, the mini-series created by Charlie Brooker. The series addresses things that exist in our society as it is now: social networks and the internet, reality shows, "15-minutes of fame", and the obsession of constantly re-visiting the past, an obsession of such a scale that, through my eyes, seems unique to my generation. I will not draw a synopsis of the series, but Charlie Brooker's version of our present and future paints a worrying picture.

Being a "leftie" politically active teenager back in the day has left its traces, and while using the internet, I try being aware of its political effectiveness. Noticing the decrease of direct action - only in the last ten years - at least in Norway, leaves me wondering whether people that used to be politically active have taken to the Internet - continuing their "work" online. It seems we are living in a world that is increasingly being governed by money, banks and corporations, where politicians play their role convincingly at times.. still they seem powerless. Political decisions made in a single country count for nothing - when that country is being governed by higher institutions - by EUs and IMFs.

The question is, is the Internet a fair replacement for direct action? For protests and demonstrations?
On the other hand, maybe direct action never really made a difference. Maybe we never really stood a chance against the people that hold the power. I do respect the power that the Internet can have. But mostly, I worry. I worry that it acts like a veil, imposed by people that benefit from the lack of direct action - bringing more and more apathy to countries in the Western World that are as well off as Norway is. Who cares about the genocide in Syria when we can read about the 5:2 diet? What makes a more interesting read, how to get the perfect bum, or the continuing crisis in Greece?

Technology does have power. But it also distracts, it hypnotizes, it gets you to a point where you live your life virtually - forgetting about the real world - therefore giving the people in charge the room to do exactly as they please with your world. Of course I realize the irony of this piece of writing - published in the same virtual world that I have spent this post worrying about. Well.. When in Rome.

mandag 9. desember 2013

Bedtime Stories // I am no poet

A silent bed whimpers in misery,
dreaming of times when it spoke a thousand words.
Of married folk, of lords and mistresses,
of trembling teenagers and secret lust.

Its clothes have been ripped off,
torn, burnt and hidden.
Its wooden body lays covered in dust as it stands
in a stripped down space longing for one last embrace that may never come.
Like an ancient relic needing to be discovered
its history will never be unlocked by warm bodies tangled up in knots,
by fiery breaths and lingering looks -
by blonde locks of hair resting on its velvet body.

No one will ever study the wooden embellishments carved on each side
or hide under the feather blanket;
an old companion locked away in a closet somewhere.

As this bed stands silently, its siblings speak restlessly;
they squeak and weep and mutter and flutter
they breathe and cry, they laugh and stutter.
Naivety intact.

A joyous dance,
as they stand unaware of their ill-fated future,
yet to hear the tale of our silent friend
with a story to tell.

søndag 20. oktober 2013

Ballad for Grandma

You want your husband to come home
you hate to be all on your own
oh Maria
why don't you come with me

You have forgotten why you're cold
spend all your time looking at the boats
Oh Maria
what are you looking for

I feel you slipping away
Maria don't run away
I know you don't want to stay
but Maria
if you stay
I'll stay too

You had to feed a thousand mouths
You were a queen without a crown
don't you see that
it was all worthwhile

You hide your memories in things
and you still know the words to sing
you have the feelings
but you don't know what they mean

I feel you slipping away
Maria don't run away
I know you don't want to stay
But Maria
if you stay

I'll stay too


tirsdag 1. oktober 2013


I have lost my mind
I have no sense of right and wrong
Think I'm turning blind
think I'm falling in a deep deep hole

Living in a hole
My head on the road
Living in a hole
My head on the road

Words are coming in
Silences are running out
Always try to win
In the end I'm falling in a hole

Living in a hole
My head on the road
Living in a hole
My head on the road