Have you ever had a certain smell or noise so vivid that it took you back in time? A special fragrance or favorite song, that went hand in hand with a lovely memory? For me the sound of crickets and frogs on a summer night, or a faint train whistle in the distance puts me back into my grandparents house.
The “spare room” they called it, equipped with two twin size beds that were always dressed in fresh sheets and linens. I spent more nights at grandmas house than I can count. My dad and I even lived there for a short period while my mother went back to medical school to become a physicians assistant. Both my grandparents were very involved in all of our lives. My grandma used to hand make our Halloween costumes, and they rarely ever missed a school or sporting event. They have surprised me for school lunch, and even at work when I was older. We didn’t have cable when I was a child so my grandma used to video tape hours of cartoons, commercials and all and bring them over to our house so I could get my cartoon fix. Whenever I had a doctors, or dentist appointment I was usually taken there by grandpa or grandma. Didn’t feel well at school? Guess who was there to pick me up? You guessed it. Grandma and Grandpa.
So why is it now so painful to spend time with them?
Dementia. The dreaded word that no one in the family really likes to talk about, let alone say out loud. I started noticing the difference in my grandma in 2011. The year I started college. It started as a gradual change, barely noticeable even, she would maybe ask you the same question twice in an evening or repeat a story she had told you an hour ago. My junior year I remember going out to dinner with my grandparents, father and brother. We went to a Texas Roadhouse and on the way there, grandma asked how school was going? Normal right? She was interested in my well being and my overall education. Problem was she asked me the same exact question eight times in an hour and a half span. I tried to mask my shock and politely answered each time, that I was enjoying my classes and that basketball was going great. My grandfather was still in the stands at every home game, but most games grandma was too tired to make it. I didn’t take it personally.
In August of this year I welcomed a beautiful baby boy. My grandmother came to my baby shower in June, and called me twice while I was in the hospital the day after having birth. When Knox was two weeks old, my father, brother and both grandparents came for a visit. I now live about 2.5 hours away from the rest of the family. My dad drove 5 hours round trip to spend 40 minutes at my house. He didn’t even get to hold his grandson, the main reason for coming. Grandma forgot where she was, in her mind she was 15 minutes away from her own home and was adamant about getting home to make dinner. In mid September, I went home to visit with family. I went to my aunts house where we passed Knox around to be held by family members so they could ooo and ahh over him. It was a great visit. When it came time for my grandparents to leave I hugged my grandma goodbye, when she pulled away she playfully rubbed my stomach and said “You’ll have to let us know when you deliver, which hospital are you going to again?” And there it was. Like an unexpected slap to the face. I tried to hide my disbelief and fathom what had just happened all while trying to make sure the event went unnoticed by the rest of the family. It didn’t. My grandpa heard the word hospital and piped up. “Whose going to the hospital?!” I pretended I didn’t know what she was talking about but I did. I know that my grandmother would never intentionally try and hurt me physically or emotionally but boy did it hurt. As if I wasn’t already self conscious about my weight, I felt super shitty now. But what hurt more was the fact that my son Knox had been in her view for two hours, she had held him 15 minutes prior and as soon she she turned her back to him she forgot. Gone. Just like that.
I wish someone had warned me how hard it would be. To love someone with dementia. But no one really wants to talk about dementia. Probably because it’s so painful, that it’s easier to tuck it away in a closet and never think about it again. To avoid having to relive it again and again. But I wish we could talk about it. Because my grandma is more than just dementia. I don’t want her to be remembered like this. I know that it’s only going to get worse from here, that in a few years, or months the dementia will progress and she might forget us. It worries me to think that she will forget me. That our lifetime of memories will soon disappear, leaving only me to remember. But I will remember. I’ll remember all of the good times we shared and love you showed me.