Last night when I went to visit my grandmother at the rehabilitation center, she couldn’t remember my name.
She recognized me, knew who I was…but couldn’t come up with a name. I tried to smile reassuringly. She asked me my name and I told her, “I’m not going to give it to you Grams…it’s up there…you’ll remember it!” She then turned to my mother and asked my mother what my name was. My mother gave her a hint, “It starts with an M.” She looked back at me, I saw her eyes brighten for a moment and then…”Melissa.” “You got it:),” I said, trying to blink back the tears.
We all know that days like this will come…it’s an inevitability of life… Yet it’s still hard to reconcile this woman who is half paralyzed, lying in a bed, and wearing a diaper with the independent grandmother that I remember… Who was still mowing her own lawn at 85, still gardening at 90, still driving at 95, still playing her fiddle at 97… Who could still recognize my voice in an instant over the telephone right up until her stroke a few weeks ago….
She looked up at me last night and told me that I was beautiful-that I could be a movie star. And at that, I did have to turn away so she wouldn’t see the tears in my eyes.
For most people sweet words and praise from a grandmother are expected…are the norm, however coming from my grandmother they are something of a revelation. She was not a proud grandmother who babysat and baked cookies, she didn’t offer hugs and kisses… And even as we got older she really felt no need to even maintain any contact with us at all. In fact she has never in my whole life even telephoned me…not even to wish me a happy birthday. My mother and my late great aunt were basically her whole life. Our grandmother never made any attempt to hide the fact that she thought that my sisters and I were nothing but a burden on my mother. She made it clear that she didn’t like us and that nothing we ever did was right. She was an extremely critical and hurtful woman who made no bones about letting us all know that we were forever on her “Sh**” list. My sisters and I actually used to joke that she was so strong and hearty at her age due to the vinegar that ran through her veins (since she never had a nice thing to say about anyone-family and strangers alike.)
The past 5-10 years however have shown a change in her…a mellowing. She’s started showing a bit more of an interest in our lives and in her great grandchildren–my nieces and nephews. She’s started to enjoy family visits…and she’s even started complimenting us on our lives, our choices, and yes…even our looks. (And trust me…though I would never in a million years be confused with a movie star…that compliment meant the world to me.)
[I know I’m rambling…I promise there is a point in here somewhere.]
As my grandmother every day struggles with her new physical challenges in life and as she slips farther and father into dementia’s grasp…I try to see through the heartache to the promise. There are blessings mixed into every bad situation if one can be open enough to look for them.
Yes, she forgets 20 minutes after having dinner that she’s eaten it…but is it really that big of a loss since she’d not really enjoyed the tough meat and bland potatoes that the rehab center serves anyway? Yes, she forgets what day of the week it is and whether it is 6am or 6pm…but isn’t it perhaps a blessing that she doesn’t realize how long she’s been sick and away from home?
In a way it’s like she gets a fresh start every time her short term memory fails her. A fresh start to believe that the physical therapy will help her (as we all pray it eventually might). A fresh start to believe that she’ll be home in her own bed soon.
And a fresh start to look at her daughter, granddaughters, and great grand children with love and affection and trust. And it gives us a chance at that same fresh start with her. A second chance to have that kindly, loving grandmother that the children within us still crave. A second chance to build a better relationship and create memories enough to last a lifetime.
When I leave to go home, promising to return the next day with fresh pencils for the crossword puzzle book I’ve given her and with snacks she can have between meals (that she’s forgotten she’s eaten), I kiss her and tell her that I love her…and she holds me tight…kisses me back and says, “I love you too.”