Having a Relative with Dementia

When I was little, I would spend days at a time out at my great grandparents home. They lived on the lake on a large property, with their tiny little double-wide home looking out over the water. I have countless memories from there, from swinging on the tire swing hanging from the big tree in the front yard to crushing beer cans to be recycled and filling up the hummingbird feeder. The best days of my childhood originate from that little home filled with love.

My great grandparents, Bandy and Grandmommy, were my favorite humans on the planet. There was not much else that trumped getting to spend a weekend with them. Days were spent playing, evenings were spent watching the “stars on the water”(a George Strait reference), and nights were spent on my little cot next to their bed. We did anything and everything together.

Bandy passed away when I was 11. To this day, I have never cried harder at someone’s funeral than I did at his. My grandmother moved into town and my childhood sanctuary was sold, and I had a hard time realizing it was gone and that I had to grow up. Then a few years later, Grandmommy started to develop dementia.

She’d lose track of her keys, get in the car to go to the grocery store and forget where she was going halfway there, and many other things. My grandmother moved Grandmommy into a house down the street from where they lived so they could take care of her. We stopped visiting on a regular basis… my grandmother would tell us that Grandmommy was having a bad day on any given day we wanted to visit, and ultimately we stopped trying to see her.

After not having seen Grandmommy in over a year, she was admitted to the hospital because she was starting to go into liver failure. I decided to stop letting fear get the best of me and go and visit her.

I walked hesitantly into her room on the second floor…

“Hello.” I said.

“Hello, there.” She looked at me with questioning eyes.

“Do you know who I am?” I was scared what the answer might be but I couldn’t help but be hopeful.

She thought about it for a few seconds. I could tell she was trying to remember. “No, I don’t,” she finally sighed.

“That’s okay. I’m your great granddaughter, Kathleen.”

“Really? I haven’t seen you in forever. You look so good, so grown up. How have you been?”

It was somewhat of a relief that she knew who I was, even if she didn’t recognize me at first. She asked me how I was doing, what all I had been up to, and how my family was. She remembered all the things I’d done as a little kid and all the adventures we used to have. She remembered my mom and my brothers and sister and for a moment, I felt like I was talking to the same old Grandmommy she was when I was 8.

But then she started repeating her questions, and repeating them again, and again, and again. And I began to see what the disease had done to her. She could remember 8 year old me, but she couldn’t remember adult me. After about 30 minutes, I told her I loved her and that I’d come back and visit her again soon.

I got in my car after that, and bawled my eyes out. She later told my grandmother that she didn’t have any visitors that day, even though I had been there. However, when I went back later that night, she did recognize me. And that made me feel better.

From what I’ve learned, how bad her dementia is just depends on the day. Some days, she talks as if she’s still 30 and running around with her best friends. Some days, she can’t figure out how she got to her new house or where her pets are. Some days, she knows what’s happening but no idea what to do about it. So I take that with a grain of salt, and go about my day.

“They come from miles around to dance the jukebox down, to hear the good times sounds they play. And all across the harbor, night life’s shinin’ on. It makes you feel just like stars on the water, like stars on the water, like stars on the water when it rains.” 

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