When I think about my grandparents, my head is flooded with vivid memories of them. I hear my grandpa’s deep laughter ringing in my ears as he tells me a story about camping. I see a flash of green as I remember the color of the vest my grandma used to always wear. It is as if I can feel the soft fabric against my cheek like I did when I hugged her. For me and many others, memories of our grandparents are engraved into our thoughts. But sometimes, even though we so distinctly remember them, grandparents don’t always remember us in the same detail. This is the scenario that the main character, Maggie, in the story “Grandma’s Angels” by Mariana Stevenson, 12, finds herself in. Maggie’s grandma has Alzheimer’s, a disease that causes memory loss and cognitive impairment through the deterioration of brain cells.
In the story, 13-year-old Maggie is visiting her grandmother. Although Maggie loves and vividly remembers her, her grandma has no recollection of Maggie or Maggie’s father. When Maggie’s father realizes that his mother’s wedding ring is missing, a frantic search to find it ensues, and emotions run very high. Through this ordeal, Maggie finds herself evaluating her own feelings about her grandmother’s Alzheimer's and questioning whether her grandmother is truly okay. From Maggie’s heartbreak and sadness when her grandmother does not remember who she is to her father’s panic when they cannot find her grandma’s wedding ring, the piece brings you on an emotional journey that I believe holistically portrays the effect of Alzheimer's on a family. It is an experience that I can personally relate to.
While my own grandma was never officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, there was no denying that she showed signs of cognitive impairment. Sometimes I think about how she could never remember that my name was “Sam” not “Jennifer” or that I couldn't speak Chinese. I was a preteen when it first started to happen, so whenever she called me by my cousin’s name and asked me for something in a language that I didn't understand, I just sighed and gave my mom a look in the stereotypical annoyed teenager sort-of-way. However, looking back, I realize that my “annoyance” was just a facade. I was trying to hide how sad and hurt I was that my grandma couldn't remember something as easy as my name. Deep down, this is why I love “Grandma’s Angels.” The author’s characters express hurt and sadness that I had been too fearful to express in the past.
The story doesn’t shy away from more difficult emotions. “My heart aches for a moment as I look at her. Grandma’s faded blue eyes show nothing. There is no sign of recollection at all,” and “I’m angry that Grandma has to experience a disease like Alzheimer’s” are just two snippets in this story that demonstrate the feelings of fury or dejection that Maggie experiences. For the protagonist to so clearly accept emotions like this conveys a message that it is okay to be sad or angry about things that seem unfair to you. This speaks so much in itself. How often do we hear the words “don’t cry” or “there is no need to be sad”? When did we get to the point where feelings like this are something that we need to hide? Often, when we think of children’s writing, it’s associated with a “happily ever after.” Sometimes children’s stories are expected to be blindly optimistic. But we must remember and recognize the pieces that are honest about reality even when reality isn’t perfect, like this story. Because, in the end, life isn’t perfect—it’s filled with complications, twists and turns, and unexpected challenges.
Don’t be afraid to write about things that are hard or sad. In Stone Soup, one difficult topic that there are a lot of stories about is illness. One of my favorites is “We No Longer Go Outside” by Stella Lin, 12, which is told from the perspective of a dog whose owner has cancer. One thing you will notice in both “We No Longer Go Outside” and in “Grandma’s Angels” is that although there are feelings of sadness, there is also an overwhelming feeling of hope. This hopefulness evolves from the fact that writing about something difficult helps you heal. This is an idea called catharsis, often characterized by the release of emotions and the subsequent relief that comes from this. You can see this in action through the last lines of “Grandma’s Angels”: “I realize everything will be OK. Grandma will be OK. I can hear the angels.” Through processing her emotions, Maggie realizes that even though her grandma and her family may be facing a challenge, everything will be fine in the end. Sometimes we all get signs in life that tell us this very message.
My grandparents passed away recently. I think often about where they are, and how they are doing. Are my grandparents with each other? Are they happy? Do they think about me or the rest of family at all? In a way, this piece was a sign for me; a sign that although I will probably never know the answers to these questions, everything is still okay. This story encouraged me to face my emotions, emotions that everyone will go through at some point in their lives. And I hope that like Maggie, we can all be brave enough to express and face these more difficult emotions head-on, comforted with the knowledge that, in the end, everything will work out. So next time you are sad or upset about something, consider writing about it! It just might help you feel better.
Author Bio: Sam Rozal is currently an undergraduate student at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is studying Biology and Environmental Studies but is also exploring other fields in the humanities and social sciences. Growing up, she absolutely adored books, especially the Boxcar Children and Series of Unfortunate Events series. Nowadays, she likes reading and writing about international issues and politics but also wants to try out creative writing. Other hobbies of hers include running and ballet dancing. When she isn’t in school, Sam can be found back home in the San Francisco Bay Area where she works as a summer camp counselor. Writing a blog post for Stone Soup is the first time that she has ever published something, so she’s very excited about it!