My grandmother is 92 and has dementia. Her long term memory is great but short term is totally gone. She knows she has a granddaughter named “X” but she doesn’t KNOW that I’m her granddaughter when she sees me. She still thinks I’m a child and not 34 years old.
My grandparents have been married for just over 69 years. This is a gist of the conversation my grandmother and I had today when they visited our house.
My grandmother “He (my grandfather) was in the army you know! The camp was near my house. He used to come down the road and see me. We would sit in the gallery and talk and we was friends. He didn’t use to drink and lime and thing but he was always in mas (playing carnival). He was a mas man. I used to play too you know! He didn’t mind that. I had like that about him he never tell me no I couldn’t do this or I couldn’t do that. He is make me feel GOOD, you know?….. He was in the army you know! The camp was right near my house and he would come and see me. We would dress up and go dancing and everybody know us. He never had no big set of friends it was just him and me and we used to talk and laugh and then we get married and I start making the children….. he was in the army you know? You know him? What is your name?”
Me “granny… it’s ‘X'”
Granny ” your name is ‘X’ ? We have an ‘X’ too !”
Me “granny I AM YOUR ‘X'”
Granny “I didn’t make you out! You looking different”
Me “yes I know I’m 34 now”
Granny “34???? Shit!… your grandfather used to be in the army you know! The camp was right down the road from my house”…
A couple things resonated in me after this conversation. It is extremely sad for me that she doesn’t remember who I am physically anymore. If you ask her what her first grand child’s name is she knows my name, she knows who I am / whose daughter I am… but she doesn’t know ME when she sees me. In her mind I’m still in school somewhere and not an adult. Somewhere along the way I just stopped growing for her.
Also, I felt like it must be so frustrating and frightening at times to be stuck in a loop. Not sure at times where you… who is there with you… saying the same things over and over and recognizing at some point that you feel like you’ve said it before… all of the conversations that you have with her tend to be in this type of cycle based on whatever her topic is that day and you just go round and round about it.
However despite this, my grandmother’s memories are happy ones. She loves her husband unconditionally and she speaks about him proudly. I can tell that she had a wonderful life as his wife and that she remembers that part of her life (their meeting and early years of marriage) so clearly because of how much it means to her. Theirs is a love that has survived seven decades through a changing often cruel world.
I would never want to be that age and suffer from dementia. It is a terrifying thing and so sad. I also know that if that were to happen to me, I don’t have those happy memories to play on a loop over and over again. What then would be my reality? Reliving when my boyfriend died? Reliving the anxiety of living with any addict? Reliving the frustration of being a thankless job that isn’t going anywhere? Reliving the sadness that I was never able to accomplish things I wanted to in life?
It is a scant silver lining in the grand scheme of dementia that my grandmother at least has happy memories… I obviously wish she had all of her faculties. But I am relieved that in “her world” she is generally happy when she speaks of her life. I do not feel I would be able to say the same about mine even if I were to add another six decades onto my current three.