My grandmother was there the day I was born.
She kept me multiple days of the week before I began school and many afternoons once I had started. She taught me stories, rhymes, songs, and lessons.
I have nothing but precious memories from my childhood visits at my grandmother’s house, and because she lived alone, I know she cherished my company as well. Part of who I am today is because of her.
However, as much as I hate to admit it, things changed as I grew older. As I entered my teens, I began to dread the boredom that I associated with my grandmother’s basic cable, internet-free house.
Although she lived next door to me, I began visiting less and less, and once I had my drivers license, I had stopped going almost altogether. I only made the trip next door on holidays or when my mother made me. I had no idea at the time what a mistake I was making.
It began with her short-term memory, and you had to retell her things multiple times. However, she could still tell you in perfect detail stories of her childhood. She soon began to forget names, and her doctors explained that she was suffering from dementia.
We knew it would get worse, we just had no idea how fast. Within a couple months, she began telling elaborate stories of conversations she had had that day with deceased relatives, talking to voices in her head, hiding from people she believed to be in her house trying to hurt her, and her “trips to heaven” she had made that day in order to talk to her sister.
She once called 9-1-1 on my father at two in the morning for beating me and mom, when my dad was out of state at the time (and he’s never harmed a hair on our heads). The most hurtful moment to my family, however, was the night she did not know who her own daughter, my mother, was. The child she raised and who now had taken care of her every day for years was only a stranger standing in her bedroom.
I began to visit her more often, but I felt extremely guilty for how I dreaded seeing her and the state she was in. Seeing my grandmother, who used to be so strong and independent, now unable to walk and not in her right mind broke my heart.
So, I did another horrible thing that I would regret: I avoided the visits so I would not have to experience the sadness and hurt.
My family, as well as myself, soon realized that we were dealing with my grandmother’s dementia and our pain in a completely wrong way. I now understood that I needed to face my grandmother and cherish the time I had left with her instead of living with the fear of what I might witness.
So, I began to accompany my mother on visits more often. The way we interacted with her changed, as well.
Before, we fought her and the stories she came up with in her head. We told her she was wrong, and that the people she saw and voices she heard were only in her mind. We tried to force the fact that the stories she invented were not true.
It hurt her to think that we did not believe what she said and that we thought she was crazy, and she was beginning to resent us for it. And the times she started to accept that we might be right and what she believes is false, it only filled her with fear.
She did not deserve an emotional roller coaster such as this in her last few years.
So, my family decided to deal with the situation in a lighter way. Instead of disagreeing and fighting with my grandmother, we acted as if her stories were true, laughed about them with her, and asked her for more details.
If she said that she had been running around town with her father all day, we ignored the facts that she couldn’t leave her bed and that he had passed away decades ago, and instead asked them where all they’d been and if they had a good time.
Although it was bittersweet, seeing my grandmother not so frustrated made everything easier to deal with both for us and her.
That next fall, I left for college and only saw my grandmother every few months when I visited home. One night, while sitting in my dorm, I received the call from my mother that I had been dreading but expecting for the past few months.
It was in that moment that my past regrets overwhelmed me. Every day that I dreaded going to see her. Every moment that I ignored her and sat playing on my phone. Every visit that I avoided for fear of what I might see.
I only had a few moments with the woman who raised my mother and helped to raise me, and I had taken them for granted. I had not been around enough when she needed love and family the most.
And now at the end of her life, I had no way to get home from college in time.
I still thank God that this was a false alarm. She lived not only until the next morning, but even though the doctors only gave her a few weeks, she is still alive today. I believe the Lord wanted to teach me a lesson in love, family, strength, and courage.
He wanted to teach me to cherish the moments I’m blessed to live, and the moments I’m given with my friends and family. And most importantly, He wanted to give me more time with my grandmother, which shows what a gracious, giving, and amazing God He is.
Soon after this incident, my family decided to place my grandmother in a nursing home. Although it was incredibly difficult to hear how much she wanted to go home, this turned out to be a wonderful decision.
Her mind still goes in and out, but the care and steady routine has greatly increased her health. While she once was too weak to lift even her hand, today she is more alert and has more energy to interact and talk with us.
Sadly, the doctors decided a few months ago to take my grandmother off her medicine for dementia. Her days are now categorized as “good days” and “bad days.”
Some days she will remember us all, while on others it is a struggle. Some she can be angry and yelling, and other times she is sweet and says she loves us.
Some days she claims she’s been running up and down the halls, and others she’ll admit she’s been laying in her bed all day.
The holidays were definitely different with her in the nursing home for the first time. There was a felt absence at our annual family get-togethers.
Still, I could not be more thankful to still have been able to visit her on Christmas Day. She was in high spirits, talkative, and it was altogether a “good day.” My mother said that her mom having a good day was all she needed for this to be a great Christmas, and I couldn’t agree more. Even if we did have to remind Granny a few times what day it was.
Every moment is cherished, both the good and the bad, with the good moments being priceless gifts from God.
Although it has made me regret my past and the time I could have spent with her and chose not to, as well as all the days I am away at college, I have come to peace with the fact that I cannot change it. Dwelling on mistakes and making myself miserable will do nothing for me, my family, or my grandmother, and I know that all I need to focus on is my time with her now and in the future.
I won’t make the same mistakes again, and I won’t take advantage of the gift of more time with her that God has given us.
I don’t mind if she doesn’t remember me now. I don’t mind listening to her stories and going along with them. Sitting in the nursing home with her and being in her presence, 100 percent, not engulfed in technology, is all it takes to make the most out of our time.
The simple act of being there for our family shows a powerful amount of love in itself, and I now realize the importance of something as simple as time.