Dementia through a grand daughter’s eyes

“It’s going to be hot”, my husband says as our daughter, Isabella, excitedly unwraps a stick of Big Red gum she found in our bag of Christmas loot. Sticks of gum aren’t something I’ve seen for awhile and it takes me back to many years ago. “How do you get your gum to snap like that?” I asked my grandmother in the car one day. She hands me a lime green stick of Wrigley gum as she tries to teach me how to make it pop. She always put on her lipstick and reached for a piece of Wrigley’s when we climbed into her Maroon Monte Carlo to head to the Five and Dime. Such a distant memory with my grandmother. One that I recall vividly along with her getting me addicted to the smell of Vicks when I had sleepovers at her house as we read the story of the Pineapple Man. The huge grandfather clock would chime on the hours and I would lay in bed and count. Of course it was grandma’s house so we often stayed up until midnight eating every innutritious thing following dinner and often popcorn as she loved popcorn. She also had an incessant need to always see my eyes so she cut my bangs every time I came to her house. Grandma and grandpa used to go camping with us. She taught me how to play Rumi and we played Go Fish and Old Maid together. As I got older I would pick her up to go for coffee and a goodie. We would sun bathe together in her pool and eat watermelon on hot summer days. I met my husband and she was so eager for us to have a “mini Jamie” running around. She would ask me all the time if we had a little one on the way. Those days don’t feel so long ago, but yet they do. I have so many vivid memories of my grandmother from the past, and she remembers none of the past now.

I read that dementia is often described as losing someone you love over and over again. In the past couple of weeks I am really feeling that loss. If she is in her own element and nothing out of the ordinary or exciting has happened she still remembers us. My grandpa doesn’t remember me sometimes. After a couple visits in a row it feels so hopeless. I didn’t expect to feel such a loss already, but I do. Some days he still remembers and it feels like the old grandpa, but I know the day is coming soon that his eyes searching and searching to place me and coming up blank is going to be the normal. He often lives in past memories, which used to be so annoying, but now it’s almost to a point that I wish he could remember them again. He’s lived in the past for awhile, and my grandmother can’t remember the past. It makes you feel like all those memories with her never happened.

My grandmother used to love to sing. His Eye is On the Sparrow and What a Friend We Have in Jesus were a couple of her favorites. My heart grew heavy one day thinking how Isabella would never hear her sing. One day last summer though grandma sang and sang to my sweet girl and my heart just burst. My grandpa loved to play his violin all the time. I remember late night jam session/hoe downs at their house when I was little. He can still play sometimes and I am so thankful. Izzy dances and dances and loves to hear him play.

Lately my heart just hurts as I feel like these could be the last of these days. They are coming to an end. Christmas was magical this year and I will treasure it as it may have been the last. The past couple of weeks though haven’t been great. I would like to think the holidays and just an unfortunate string of non-serious, but exciting incidences for them are what is throwing things off. Deep down I know it’s going to become more normal. My grandma generally remembers me. She doesn’t always remember Izzy, but I understand that. I would love to think she is always going to remember me, but something tells me based on my great grandmother’s battle with dementia that won’t be the case. When she does and she is “clicking” it is so great, but when she isn’t it feels like a loss…that keeps repeating itself.

My grandparents used to be so social, adventurous travelers with so many friends and a strong church family. A combination of friends passing on and people thinking dementia is contagious has made for a tough and lonely life for them in their latter years. It’s really has made me re-examine my relationships and time invested.

I say all of this to not only get it off my chest, but also to raise awareness of the disease. It isn’t contagious. It isn’t something to be made fun of. If you suspect a loved one has it, yes their jokes are hilarious, their forgetfulness is laughable but don’t take it too far. Don’t stop visiting these people because they don’t have it “together” anymore, or they offend you. I find it sad that all the time they invested in so many people is worth nothing now because they have lost their filter. It makes my heart smile when I hear someone tell me they regularly pick my grandma up for pancake breakfast still and help her get dressed. Thank you to you. Thank you so very much.

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