My Mom and Step Dad take care of my Grandma and Aunt. My Grandma will be 94 in September. Marilyn will be 51 in August. She is Down Syndrome with additional brain damage. The last time we saw them was in June of 2004 when we went out to California. Grandpa died in 2002 and Grandma and Marilyn were still living alone when we visited. It was around that time that it was decided to move them up to Seattle because they needed help on a daily basis. The presence of dementia could no longer be denied and the fact that is was only going to get worse realized.
I had heard how bad it had gotten. I prepared myself for the worst. The worst for me being that she wouldn't know who I was.
We arrived in the evening and my Grandma had already gone to bed. It was weird to me to see a mixture of Grandma's and my Mom's things in their new house. Originally, my Grandma and Marilyn lived in a house four doors down from my Mom and Step Dad's. Several months ago they bought a large home out in the country and all moved in together. I was disappointed that she wasn't up but still apprehensive about how she was going to react to me. It was still light out so after visiting with my Mom and Step Dad for a bit I went down the hall to peek in on her. Her door was open and she was awake. She was on the old iron bed that had been my mother's and in my grandparent's home for years... and then mine for a time. She was facing the wall but when she sensed my presence she turned. In the moment her eyes met mine I know she recognized me and she excitedly shifted to sit as her eyes lit up and she smiled at me. In the time it took me to walk to her bed her eyes clouded a bit as she struggled to remember my name. I pushed the lump in my throat down and just hugged her.
My Grandma is all crooked now and has to use a walker. Four years ago she could still bend over and pick things up off the floor with ease. She went on about how she must "look a fright," and apologized again and again. She came out into the living room and I sat by her chair and held her hand. One minute she would know who I was and the next she wouldn't. Over and over again she would look at my wedding rings and then exclaim that I was married. She asked over and over who the kids were. She asked me who my Mom was and then thought my Mom was her sister and told me how glad she was that her niecey had come to visit. I held it together but struggled on the dark ride back to the campground to hold back the tears.
The next day we had plans to go up north to Mr. Macchiato's brother's house for a barbecue. I struggled again and fought to push the lump in my throat back down. Visiting with everyone helped to take my mind off of my Grandma and I was able to have a good time.
The following day was the big get together at my Mom's. All of my Aunts and Uncles in the area and my brother and his wife came. One Aunt and Uncle came all the way from Spokane. It was so good to see everyone. My Grandma asked the same questions over and over. Sometimes with only a few minutes between. She seemed to be trying to follow along but was confused. I noticed that she eventually stopped asking and just sat there looking off into the distance. The lump returned and I gulped it back down by focusing on my other relatives.
The day after that the guys took off for the day to do guy things. Frappacino and I stayed at the house with my Mom, Grandma and Marilyn. My mom pulled out bin after bin of fabric that she wanted to go through with me. My Grandma sat in her chair and watched. She wanted to know what all the fabric was for and we told her over and over that it was for quilts.
Marilyn sits in a chair just like my Grandma's on the other side of the walkway and they rock. She rarely forgets Marilyn. She once asked my Mom if she was Mongoloid. All day long we heard her try to get Marilyn's attention and then say that she thinks she is deaf. With it just being us girls I got a better sense of what my Mom and Step Dad are dealing with. I don't know how they do it.
The rest of our time was spent up north. Our days were filled with visiting and we fell into bed late each night. I was able to keep the lump at bay... until today. We are home. I hugged and kissed my Grandma for what was probably the last time. I don't know when I will get to go there again... and as she continues to deteriorate I know that even if I do, she won't remember.
I remember running into her arms as a child. She always held me close and I'd smell the smell that was her... clean, like soap... but with the lingering smell of coffee mingled with roast, or bacon, or fried chicken. I remember gathering eggs for her and then watching her make breakfast. Her infectious laugh and twinkling eyes... All the nights I slept with her in her bed and we talked late into the night after listening to Billy Graham on the radio... All the stories she told me... All the ways she made me feel special and loved. This was the first time I've seen her that she didn't lift my hair off of my neck, tell me how sweet it was and then smother it with kisses... This was the first time I saw her that she didn't call me Sweet Kelly or her Kelly Jean, Jelly Bean... This was the first time I saw her that she couldn't remember me.
I am so grateful for that first moment I saw her. I don't think I could have taken her not recognizing me at first. Even though she couldn't bring up my name, I saw in her eyes that she knew me and that she loved me. My Grandma is hard of hearing. She has hearing aids but refuses to wear them. Miraculously she was able to hear me and understand what I was saying. It was a gift, of that I am certain. Mr. Macchiato has a very deep, loud voice and she could not hear him when he spoke to her.
Everything about my Grandma is fading... her memory is like the flickering of a flame before it goes out. It's okay Grandma. I remember.