I am having trouble remembering the grandmother of my childhood.
Some things come to mind, like at 13 years old I told her I didn’t want to go to Disney World again for summer vacation. I had been to Disney with Grammie just about every other year up to that point. However, in a hormonal haze, I decided I was too old for Disney, that it was for kids, not for me.
Not long after that, I also decided that I would no longer visit Grammie in Miami each summer.
So, I told her by phone from Maryland that I wasn’t interested in coming. “Are you sure?” Grammie queried.
The teenage phase had become much too reliant on the happenings of my peers in Maryland, and to risk three months away would surely be detrimental to my social standing.
Dementia, set into motion by several strokes and mini strokes or Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs), left my Grammie unable to recall once familiar stories of us. Read about stroke-related dementia here.
Like the story of an early spring in 1969; I was born in what I presume to be a charity hospital for women. My 18-year-old mother and I nearly died as the story goes – as Grammie used to tell.
I have heard many accounts from relatives about my Grammie’s joyous and exultant declarations of her new status as a grandmother. Once I was safe and sound in the apartment of my young parents and their parents, she would run from mirror to mirror holding me near her face, softly saying, I’m a grandmother, I’m a grandmother, I’m a grandmother, now!”
Many in my family considered this a peculiar reaction from the mother of a teenaged father.
I wish I could remember that day. If I could, it may help. When I look at the shrunken person before me demanding more and more of my tired self, I wish I could use that single memory as a quick elixir; a shot of life to remind me of the woman I once knew.
Her dementia has erased much of us from her memory and is leaving a confused, frightened child-like soul.
She no longer looks at my thinning, creased face with an endearing smile – a smile that used to spread because it knew me as a little chubby bundle that brought unusual joy to her life.
These days, it must be hard to look loving into the eyes of a person whom you forget your connection.
“Tell me again how we are related?” she asks as I fold her undies.
“I’m your granddaughter, and my father is your eldest son,” I tell her again, in the most matter-of-fact enunciation I can stand. I remind myself not to take it personally. She has scarring of the brain not callousness of the heart.
The memories of her tickling my six-year-old body as we rolled about her big wooden, four-poster bed are becoming spotted for me – spotted by her paranoia and mental distance.
Most notable is her distance from my children. She never touches them. She glares disapprovingly at them if they frolic too close to her bony legs or investigate her aluminum cane.
“Don’t touch that!” she barks, moving her crutch out of reach.
As a homemaker with two children under the age of four, I knew taking on my grandmother would be more than tough, it would be a daily challenge but it was something I thought would strengthen me and be a wondrous, life lesson for my children.
I had visions of the children curled up at her feet as she sat cozily in the Lazy Boy while I knitted and my husband read a book. I had every intention of this being good for my children. They would grow in a multi-generational home to become caring and selfless. My children would understand the elderly and embrace them.
I must say that I faced the challenge of her care head on. Her plethora of medications three times a day was a cinch. I discovered that she liked her coffee blazing hot after being sent back to the kitchen with barely warm coffee on several mornings. Just like for the children, I even needed to cut up her food. Her cataracts prevented her from placing the knife right on her meal. She would saw at the plate, completely missing the target.
Even the time she requested much to much prune juice and couldn’t move quickly enough to make it to the bathroom, didn’t unnerve me. I simply donned rubber gloves and cleaned.
It was my duty, my honor to serve my Grammie in anyway the heavens saw fit.
But as I served, my children were being pushed farther away.
My loving, innocent children were not treated well by Grammie and I could not bare the treatment they were subject to and, oddly those moments made my old memories of her become difficult for me to recognize as true.
I spent much of my days herding the children away from her. Their toddler antics of singing loudly, asking curious questions or simply jittering too much, made her lips purse and her face harden.
Who was this woman I had committed to caring for?
Once she asked, “Why don’t you ever yell at them?”
(which, I have done, but I understand the ineffectiveness of it so I try to limit any high-volume rants).
According to my grandmother, my children should have regular spankings for their childish behavior. Funny, if I think really hard, I don’t recall ever being physically disciplined by her.
Of course my problem is, I don’t have time to think really hard anymore. I now believe that memories are a luxury. When life demands that you use all your faculties to keep everyday afloat, that leaves little time for daydreaming .
I spend my days – after prayer – looking ahead, planning the family’s next move and keeping things in order.
I don’t have time to hurt, but I realize that if I am to make solace with my grandmother, I must find time to heal, to take a glimpse into the past, and allow my memories to surface.
Stress is high for providers of the elderly, so I realize that I must seek respite on occasion and allow those luxurious memories to flow.
By remembering to take care of me, I can keep our memories alive for both of us – I can slow the fade.
Grammie died September 2011 and I am thankful to have, even these memories of time spent with Grammie on earth.
Visit the American Heart Association to learn more about strokes, and healthy living.