Aug 202015

My mother told me, when I was rather young, that no one’s soul ever dies. I imagine that each memory is a small flame, burning amidst so many others. They eventually create a swirling, shimmering glow, illuminated by love, flying up, up, up, until they light the sky with a brilliant glow.

As we walked through the halls of the clinic, I spotted a ninety-year-old woman on her bed, eyes wide, mouth open as if trying to scream. No sound came out. Her breath came in heavy gasps. A shriek, as a patient slumped over in his wheelchair. His orange juice splattered across his white t-shirt. A moan, as patients cast slow, lingering glances at random objects, their tennis-balled walkers gliding slowly across the cold, tile ground. A yell. A patient’s flare of anger at an invisible phantom, lurking behind the humming refrigerator. A groan. Patients forget, their old minds giving way beneath the weight of their disease. A cry. Another memory casually fizzled into the air. Wearing a red uniform, a nurse guided us into another depressing room, then another, and it seemed like the corridors and rooms were endless. Dark beige walls and dim lamps created a somber, gloomy effect, which is probably an understatement. Finally, we reached the hallway which led to where my grandmother was. Maliha, my grandmother.haris2

Silently, we walked to the television room, where there was a large group of elderly, white haired men and women, each focusing on the TV, although it was clear to me that they had no idea where they were or what was playing on that strange, small sound omitting box. Scanning the room, I finally located my grandmother in the crowd, sitting and chatting with another patient in her native language, Farsi. Because she was the only one in the entire room who was saying anything, we walked over towards her. Once she looked up at us, my mother and father bent down and kissed her on the cheek, and, as usual, there was not a significant sign of recognition radiating from her. However, she did say hello and converse with us; some friendly habits die hard. My sister gave me the usual quizzical looks whenever my grandmother would address her, due to my grandmother’s no longer sensical or straightforward phrases. Then, she looked me in the eyes, an unfamiliar look on her face. Studying her very closely, I noticed a food stain her collar. Her hair was turning gray. Her eyes, though, were the same as ever. She said to me, “What is your name, honey?” Each word came out with a struggle; she was slowly losing her English. I remember the precise way she said those four words: Long, drawn out syllables and consonants fighting, clawing their way out of her quivering lips. This question was common. I usually simply replied and told her my name over and over. However, it was as if suddenly, I could not speak; my whole body went rigid. Tears welled up in my eyes, and my throat constricted. Slowly, my palms went damp, and, in a long, reluctant, moment, I quietly mumbled my name to her. Distractedly, she nodded and smiled, clearly having no clue as to who I was. She continued to speak nonsensically, but I could not take it anymore. Feeling suffocated, I excused myself, and I burst out of the room and went to the bathroom.

Perhaps I should not admit it. Maybe I should hide it out of fear of being judged, but I will not. I will tell everyone: I cried.

harisNever again would my grandmother recognize me. It is not fair that someone who was once a kindergarten teacher, who had done so much for me and my mother, was now robbed of what was so rightfully hers, her memory. Nothing belongs to one person more than their own thoughts and memories, but hers were taken from her. I could not, perhaps still cannot, understand why she was chosen, why she was the one to lose her own beliefs, theories. It is one of the questions I would ask God, or whoever or whatever took my grandmother from me.

When I felt more relaxed and slightly less distraught, I walked back out. Quietly strolling down the hall, I stopped at her room. No one was there because my parents, sister, and grandmother were in the television room. So, slowly, I crept inside and sat on the bed. Reaching under her bedside table, I brought out a box my mother made for her, filled with pictures of my grandma, mother, uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends. As I looked, I suddenly stopped. In front of me was a picture of my grandmother. Standing in front of a tree, she looked to be in her mid thirties, with long black hair. All my life, I had been told that my grandmother was a beauty, so I was not surprised by her striking appearance. Instead, I was transfixed by the depth of her calm, knowing gaze, and the picture revealed a profoundly subtle side of her that I had never seen in other pictures. Her smile showed no teeth, just a small upward curve of her thin lips, and there was, somewhere, a shimmering inward beauty radiating from her. That image woke something, it illuminated something, a rare acceptance that I had not experienced since before my grandmother was diagnosed.

Out of nowhere, I remembered a quotation from her favorite poet, Hafiz, that she would always recite: “Even after all this time The sun never says to the earth, “You owe Me.” Look what happens with A love like that, It lights the Whole Sky.”

Looking at the picture of my grandmother, a flood of memories of how she was before the disease rushed back to me. How her eyes twinkled when telling a story, how she would hum when music was playing, how delicious her cooking was, how much she loved me and my sister and my mother, and not once did she ever say, “You owe me”. Not when she raised and cared for my mother, nor did she say it when she watched and gave advice to me and my sister. Now, she was the vulnerable, weak one, who needed our love more than anything in the world. So, we gave our love, as freely and plentily as she had given her love to us. Hiding the picture in my back pocket, I carefully closed the lid of the picture box. Stowing it beneath the table once more, I walked out to the television room.

Everyone was preparing to leave, so I followed them. When we left, I looked behind me, and for just a brief second, I saw that familiar look of understanding, that twinkle in her eye, the calm smile. It was like old times, when she would tell stories and throw her head back and laugh with me. In an instant, she was Maliha again. But, as all things do, it left.

I am glad, if not relieved, that the last image I can conjure of that day is of my grandmother’s eyes. They are sincere, genuine, and tender, welcoming me into her warm, loving embrace. They are not from a picture, or any clear memory I have of her. Just a figment of my imagination. Sunlight brightens the right side of her face, and I can tell she is outside.  I can almost smell the Earth around her and hear the grass rustle with the soft breeze as the sun slowly sets. I cannot say the image is clear. In fact, it is almost a blur in my memory, like an unsteady camera took the picture, only seen through an unclear, perfect haze. A slight glare from the sunlight taints the view. My grandmother’s deep, brown eyes are wrinkled at the edges, hinting to a smile somewhere else. The image just cuts off abruptly, so I cannot see her thin lips, her smile.

But I am not sad. No, no, all is well. No sadness or grief burdens me. She is there, my grandmother, still there, somewhere. That image makes me happy, not sad, because I know, even though I cannot see it, that she is smiling at me, a majestic, radiant smile.

About the Author: Haris Hosseini, 14, won a top prize in the National Council of Teachers of English Promising Young Writers Program with this essay. He and his family participate in Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Team Kayoumy. They walk in support of his grandmother Maliha Kayoumy, as well as countless others living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Haris’s father is New York Times best-selling author Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite RunnerA Thousand Splendid Suns and And the Mountains Echoed.

Learn more:
Walk to End Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s Information for Kids & Teens
Inside the Brain: An Interactive Brain Tour

  18 Responses to “A Love Like That”

  1. Thank you for this essay, what a beautiful, insightful narrative on your grandmother. How inspiring to be able to see such depth in a young man, and gain a better understanding of how my own children and grandchildren will face my mother’s advancing Alzheimer’s.

  2. Thank you for this wonderful essay, I too have Alzheimer's – and I'm a Grandmother, I pray God's Blessing on her and your family. May you all be filled with love for one another and may your Grandmother feel His presence every moment of her life

  3. Your story is much lie mine, this horrible disease took my husband of 27 yrs, on 6-26-15, at the age of 67 yrs. His experience was somewhat different, as he always remembered who we were and never forgot anyone. However the simple things as walking, feeding him self and the complete shutting down of every organ in his body was difficult, torture to watch. I pray for you and your family to find peace somehow someway and we could certainly benefit from your prayers. God bless.

  4. I am so proud of my son for writing this beautiful essay describing his feelings for his grandmother. He always stood by my side and tried to comfort me when we were visiting my mother. He acted selflessly in his devotion to both me and his grandmother. It's difficult –this cycle of life –and I am grateful that he has the empathy to recognize what's important in life –relationships, family, love. May you rest in peace, Mommy; I love you.

    • What a lovely young man you have raised Roya. Your sweet mother, sending my condolences. Take care now…..

  5. Yes… there is no doubt… he IS your son…. !!!

  6. Congratulations and Well Done on a fantastic essay. Your words are beautiful, as is the love for your Grandmother. Good Luck to you and your family with Team Kayoumy.

  7. You made me cry, Haris. You are a brilliant story teller just like your father.

  8. Hi Khalad, I read two of your books, Kite Runner and The Mountains Echoed. You are a good spinner of life stories. My daughter, who is now a Visiting Professor at Tennessee Tech University this year (she was called to teach at U.C. Riverside, but they called too late), is also a good spinner of stories. Like your son, she won an international competition on writing when she was 12 years old.
    She teaches Writing and English Literature.
    I have a colleague Dr. Khalad Eftekari. We talked about your books and about Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush region.
    Dr. V
    Atlanta-Gwinnett Women's Specialists, LLC

  9. What a write up by a 14 year old! No wonder he is the son of Khaled Hosseini, a writer whose books I hold close to my heart ! Bless you my child Haris Hosseini! You have captured the emotions and intricacies of human relationships so beautifully that I felt at par with you…Thankyou for sharing your emotions!

  10. This is so amazingly written.Hard to believe a fourteen yer old can write with so much maturation.The feelings flow freely with Hari's writing.I was always a Khaled Hosseini fan and i think his son has made me his fan too!

  11. Touched my heart.

  12. TY . my Mother also had Alzheimers she was a Beautiful Woman. Loved to tell her stories, so we would just listen to her no matter how many times she repeated them. I thought your story was just Beautiful. Brought tears to my eyes as I read it. Thinking of my Mama to. TY & God Bless.. Marti.- n Bama…

  13. Thanks Haris, You made me see that there is still a soul that You can see in her eyes and that always will be there. Doesnt matter there is no more memories but there is a soul that still express love through her eyes. My mother has Alzheimer, still recognize us as family, although she forgot the names. She is some days a little girl And others an old lady as she is 90 years old. I am living in Peru now, taking care of my mother, but when I was living in New York, I was Lucky to read “Kite Runner” and A Thousand Splendid Suns” . He is a great writer and human bring, And you are following his steps. God Bless.

  14. So beautifully written,my mom has Alzheimers ,i long to see her laughto smilr ,to hear the joy in her voice,the love in her heart,my memories of this stay with me,I know I shouldn’t cry,but I do,I can’t imagine not having that anymore,and I don’t think I ever will.

  15. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful remembrance. My mother had Alzheimer's also and I can identify with your thoughts and feelings. Through my memories and pictures of her in earlier years, I could see her as the person she had once been. The eyes may seem blank to us but I believe there is life in there. And yes, the soul does live on.
    Keep up the writing, Haris. Am sure you are as gifted as your father.

  16. Nice story, Haris. I know, Alzheimer’s disease is a 'hard to understand' condition. It is always hard to accept that the person whom we knew all our life is not the same anymore. Despite the disease, your grandmother is lucky with the family she has. There is a great number of old people who are single and have no support from their relatives and it is very sad.

  17. This is a very moving remembrance. Thank you for sharing.

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