Japera Benson hadn’t realized her grandmother was losing her memory.
But then her grandma forgot who the 13-year-old was.
“In high school, I really started to see the change in her memory … I remember talking to her, then she would not remember who I was and ask me, ‘Do you have kids?’ or ‘Did you drive over here?’ or ‘Where do you live? I haven’t seen you in years,’” Japera, now 16, said.
Since then, sometimes she’ll remember her. Other times, she’ll think Japera’s one of her sisters who now lives in Alabama.
Japera, a student at Cleveland Heights High School, said she doesn’t get frustrated, but others around her do.
“I just see her as my sweet grandma who just happened to lose her memory ... It just makes me sad to see her be like that. But it bothers me more to see people get angry with her,” said Japera, who visits her grandmother regularly.
Then, Japera found an outlet to express her feelings. Her English teacher introduced her and her classmates to a program run by Cleveland Clinic's Office of Civic Education Initiatives called eXpressions, where students read research by other students who have completed research internships with doctors and nurses. The eXpressions students use art and writing to interpret and present the information provided by other students.
Japera came across a research paper about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and thought about her grandmother.
But instead of writing from her own perspective, she tried to imagine what her grandma was thinking and feeling.
“I can see the frustration I cause them when I cannot answer a simple question. They no longer come to me with questions or concerns. They look at me with shame like I am lying to them. I hold no motherly authority anymore. I am a stranger to my own children," Japera wrote.
The essay is called “An Elephant Never Forgets" and is included with this article. Her grandmother has collected figurines of the animal for years, and Japera referred to the elephants throughout her essay.
"A large blue elephant was given to me by my granddaughter. For Christmas? I think I hugged her for it. Maybe I did. I hope I did," Japera wrote.
Her grandmother saw Japera's work honored. Rice attended the eXpressions exhibit opening at the Great Lakes Science Center, where students’ work from several area schools is displayed through April. Japera was one of the winners and received $75.
“I was happy, and I feel like I’ve made a difference. People tell me that they have a family member with Alzheimer’s and that they’ve calmed down with being frustrated. People say (the essay) impacted them, and I didn’t really know I could do that.”