My Grandma Doesn't Know Me Anymore

In my recent post about my family, I didn't much mention my dad's side. My parents divorced when I was two and my sister was one, and we lived with my mom and saw my dad every other weekend. My dad was an only child, and his parents (my paternal grandparents) were divorced as well. We hardly ever saw his father, which was fine with me because I found him creepy, but we saw his mother, my grandmother, every weekend that we spent with my father. I was never anywhere near as close to her as I was (and still am) to my maternal grandmother, but my dad's mom was a lot of fun when I was a kid. She taught my sister and I to play cards. She loved to shop, and would often take us out and buy us whatever our hearts desired. She loved rootbeer floats and sweets of all kinds. My paternal grandma is still alive, but she's lost to me at the same time. She has Alzheimer's.

Prior to Saturday, I hadn't seen my paternal grandma in almost two years. When we would have family gatherings with my dad, stepmom, and my half-sisters, she wouldn't come. In the beginning stages of the disease, it was because she was embarrassed that she would forget things in front of us. That, and she had always been slightly agoraphobic, and the Alzheimer's intensified those feelings. I kept up with her health via my dad, who would tell me things like "She has good days and bad days" and "she's on a new experimental drug, and we're hopeful it will stop the disease's progression" and more recently "she's forgetting to eat" and "we're looking at nursing home facilities." My grandma lived alone in her house, and my dad, who is recently retired, would spend most of his days with her. One week ago, in a night-time rainstorm, she wandered next door and stood in her neighbor's yard. She couldn't find her way back home. The neighbors called my dad. He stayed over at her house, and went home the next evening. And that evening, the neighbors called again. My grandma was standing in their yard, didn't know where she was, and couldn't find her way home. The need to place her in a secure, safe facility was now imminent. Two days later, my grandma became a resident of a nursing home.

My husband and I, along with my dad and stepmom went to visit her on Saturday. I brought her some pumpkin bread and some cinnamon-pumpkin bars I had baked to tempt her sweet tooth. I knew she likely wouldn't recognize me, but I held out some hope that she might. We met with her in the recreation room across the hall from her room. She only knew my dad. She didn't know my stepmom. She didn't know my husband. And she didn't know me at all.

We sat at a table with her for two hours. She asked repeatedly, every few seconds, to be taken home. Or to be taken out for a drive, or to go shopping. My dad, in response, patiently answered her the same way each time she asked. No, she had to stay there and see her doctor who was coming for a visit. She asked to leave hundreds of times in that two-hour period, never once remembering that she had asked the same questions and received the same responses from my dad just a few seconds earlier. She has no short-term memory at all. She was present in the room, and from a physical perspective, seemed fine, but her mind wasn't there at all. Most of the things coming out of her mouth made no sense. It was heartbreaking for me.

Alzheimer's is a disease that I believe is much harder for the family and friends than for the patient herself. My grandma is at the stage where she doesn't realize that she should recognize people. She isn't struggling to recall names or faces or events. They're simply erased from her memory, and she doesn't know they were ever there to begin with. But for my dad and for me and for all others who love her, we know what she no longer does. We are the witnesses to the disease as it erodes her mind. We hear her words, which often times mean nothing, and we see the vacant expression in her eyes as she stares out the window. And we know the person she was before Alzheimer's stole her memory. And it is incredibly hard to experience.

My grandma is still herself in one way. She still loves her sweets, and in the one happy moment of the visit, I smiled as she ate almost all the treats I brought her, and as she proclaimed them delicious. She didn't know her granddaughter had baked them with her in mind. Or that I remembered sitting at her formica kitchen table with my sister as she made us her favorite treat-rootbeer floats-for dessert during our childhood visits. But she enjoyed the experience of eating the food I had brought her in that one moment, and that made me realize that as hard as it was for me to see her as she is now, I can still affect her life in a positive way, and bring her some joy. And for that reason, I know I'll go back. If I can make my grandma smile, even if she doesn't recognize me at all, then I know I must return.

6 Responses to “My Grandma Doesn't Know Me Anymore”

  1. # Blogger Geekwif

    It's hard to watch our loved ones grow old. Hold on to the knowledge that you can bring some joy to her, and keep visiting no matter how hard it is to do so. I didn't visit my Grandma enough after her stroke and now I wish that I had.  

  2. # Blogger Alisha

    I think it's so beautiful of you to realize the joy you can bring her. That is very poignant to me. I worked in an Alzheimer's unit for about a year, and they taught me so much. They are still them, they are just at a different stage. They have changed. As we all do. So our roles with them change, and we adjust. And bring them sweets to see them smile!  

  3. # Blogger Marie

    It's so good you have your fond memories of your Grandma, Kristi. You're so thoughtful to bring her baked goods & to bring some joy to her day & comfort to her soul!  

  4. # Blogger Kross-Eyed Kitty

    Oh dear. It's 9:30 am and I am all misty reading this.
    Alzheimer's is a terrible disease, and absolutely it is worse for family members who DO remember what that person was like before they started to forget their life.
    It must have been a difficult decision for your dad to arrange for a nursing home, and hard to hear her asking to go home over and over again.
    You have preserved the memory of what your Grandma was like so well in this post. I'm glad you shared this with us!  

  5. # Blogger Christine

    I just wanted to wish you the best of luck with your family and grandmother. Alzheimers is an awful, awful disease. My grandmother currently suffers from it, and it is definitely true that it is much worst for the family. Stay strong and keep her smiling.  

  6. # Blogger Kristi

    Geekwif-I haven't visited her enough in the past two years, and I won't let that happen again. She may not know me, but if I can make her happy in a small way, I know it's worth it.

    Alisha-You're right. Alzheimer's patients are still themselves, but just changed. I think it's important to realize that they're still our loved ones, despite the fact that they don't know us.

    Marie-I hope I did. And I'd gladly do it again just to see her smile.

    Kross-Eyed Kitty-I'm sorry my post made you misty! It was hard to visit her-very hard-but I will definitely go back.

    Christine-Thanks for visiting my blog. I'm so sorry your grandma is affected by the disease as well. It's so hard to witness for loved ones, especially when we have the memories of what our relatives were like before.  

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    born in August 2006 following
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