Running 12,000 miles away from home

By: Olivia Budiono

Olivia volunteers at the Alzheimer’s Association, Washington State Chapter. She is a recent graduate of the University of Washington and is pursuing a career in communications. Olivia chose to volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association because she felt like it was something she could do to make a difference, even though she can’t be home with her grandma.

I came to the United States thinking I was ready to move 12,000 miles away from home, my family and culture. I come from Indonesia, and I moved to Seattle four years ago to pursue a college degree. When I was fifteen, I was determined to leave high school early and get a head start in my college education. I didn’t consider all the hardships and obstacles I would face moving to a completely new country at such a young age. The only thing that kept swarming my mind was, “I want to live independently in America and experience the dream.”

My grandma and me in Malang celebrating my second birthday

Having lived my whole life in a tropical country, where the temperature would rarely drop below seventy degrees, I was welcomed with gloomy skies and friendly breezes. But that was the least of my problems. I found that I was the most disconnected I had ever been from home.

I come from a small city in East Java called Malang. This is the city where my parents grew up, got married, where my grandparents lived and where I would spend every holiday exchanging gifts with my extended family. I loved spending time in both of my grandmas’ houses. They would always feed me delicious food, especially the unhealthy ones my parents wouldn’t let me have.

My grandma from my dad’s side has always taught me to be humble and selfless. She has helpers who live in her house, and I remember when we were going out for lunch, my grandma invited the helper’s kid. Being the obnoxious, selfish, naïve five year old I was, I asked my grandma, “Why would we invite the helpers kid?” and she said, “Because everyone’s equal, and we have to learn to share and live together.”

Fast forward to 2002, when my grandparents were visiting my cousins and uncle in Bali.

My grandparents on the swings with my older brother and me.

They were having dinner on the beach when a terrorist bombing struck and injured over 400 unfortunate victims. Everyone survived, except my grandpa, who had seven bullets in his body and died the night of his birthday. My grandma is one of the most loving persons in this world. For her to lose her best friend, her first love and her hero, she lost a part of herself.

Looking back, my grandma did show small signs of change after my grandpa’s death. It wasn’t noticeable, but she would tear up more than she would smile. Two years ago, she started showing serious signs of dementia, which we eventually realized was Alzheimer’s. I didn’t think too much of it and wasn’t aware that it could lead to life-threatening conditions.

From 12,000 miles, I would hear stories about how my Grandma would lock her wallet in her dresser, then spend the next three hours frustrated, blaming others for misplacing her wallet.

When I get the chance to visit home during summer, I look forward to seeing my grandma. But to be bluntly honest, I get frustrated and don’t enjoy having conversations with her anymore. She would ask the same question seven times within ten minutes, call me by my brother’s name and sometimes make slightly offensive remarks. I always have to remind myself that it’s the disease talking and not the grandma I knew six years ago.

My grandma is now in Malang, living with my aunt and sometimes moves around to be looked after by her other children. Her condition is getting worse; she can barely stay by herself without putting herself or others in a potentially dangerous situation.

Taking a selfie in the car with my grandma.

Before my grandma, I didn’t know much about Alzheimer’s. I especially didn’t know that it was one of the leading causes of death. I feel guilty for being far away from home and not being with my family during a hard time. However, I have become much more appreciative of everything in my life, and have become the most grateful individual to have such amazing roots, which has also made me so much more proud of my home and much closer to my family.

I will never forget the time I was seven, when my grandma bought me a small Kangaroo wallet, and I joked about it being empty. She immediately went to grab some money to put in my new wallet, and I got too excited and knocked over her glass vase and fake glass flowers. She did not even raise an eyebrow at me, or put on an upset face (even though I knew that vase and flowers were probably very expensive). Instead she gave me a hug and told me everything was okay.

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