Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My grandma: The cycle of life.

My grandma is 93-years-old and she has dementia.

It's hard to watch somebody you've loved your whole life deteriorate in such a confusing and frustrating way. She's old, she's changing, and the reality is, she is not the same person I've known my whole life. This disease is infecting her mind, weaving confusion and forgetfulness into her 93-years of memories and emotions. One minute she is fine, but in a split second she very easily gets lost, mentally and emotionally. She knows it, which is the worst part.

Amma, Me & Heather: Folklorama in the 80s
My mom always tries to console me by telling me that this is a natural progression of life. (She specializes in neurological brain disorders, I suppose she comprehends my grandma's disease in a way that I can't: logically and scientifically.) She's the one who has become my grandma's primary...I don't even know the right word. I guess the best way to describe it is that my mom and my grandma have, in a sense, come full circle: My mom cares for my grandma in ways that she is unable to care for herself anymore.

I know it's taxing on my mom, it would be on anybody. Not because my grandma is a "burden," but because it's a hard stage of life to walk through with somebody. Yet she does it well, with a lot of patience and firmness.

My grandma is a lovely lady, but if I had to guess I would say I got my attitude and temperament from her. (translation: She can be a diva at times, maybe a little intense and melodramatic...) That is part of her charm, and perhaps one of the reasons her and I have such a strong bond: we're the same person, sixty years and a bunch of different morals apart.

I've just been feeling a profound sadness about this chapter of life with my grandma. People tell me all the time that I should feel lucky to still have a grandma who is otherwise healthy, and I am. I just have a hard time with the dementia. I am not ready for this part. I'll never be ready... When it comes to my grandma my emotions outweigh any logic I might have. I love her, and it makes me sad. It just makes me really, really sad.

I know people mean well when they say those kinds of things, but sometimes those 'reassuring words' aren't helpful. Most times they aren't. Instead they instill a sense of guilt and shame about the way I feel. I know that's not the intent, and I am probably hyper-sensitive. But even though she is old and this is probably inevitable, love doesn't know age. Sometimes the best response to someone who talks about this kind of issue is just something like "That's shitty."

Yes it is.

That said, I love her and she needs me not to be the weak person that I've been. I can live in denial and sadness, but then I'm robbing myself of spending time with my grandma.

In the end, there is no real moral to this post. This is the cycle of life and the emotions that accompany it. To love someone with your whole heart is to understand that love sometimes does and will hurt, but it's always worth it.

Here's a video of my grandma I made a few years ago, my favourite part is when she starts laughing (fun fact: that was genuine; we were just fooling around and talking. I wasn't even going to use that footage until I saw it when I was editing. It's perfect.)

"We should all have one person who knows how to bless us despite the evidence, Grandmother was that person to me."  - Phyllis Theroux


  1. That is so beauiful Shelly. Your Amma is beautiful those genes must run in the family. So nice to see the bond you have with her. I have seen lots of photos of you and your amma all through the years we have none each other. There is one that sticks out the most is her hands motions of rocking out. lol. You
    definitely have her wildness. Two peas in a pod. Embrace this time you have with her. xoxox

  2. Beautifully written. I can relate to every, single word you said- just change 'mom' to 'dad' and 'grandma' to 'grandpa'. My grandpa had Alzheimer's disease for 20 years and spent less than 2 years in long term care before dying in August of 2011.

    If you ever need to talk/vent, let me know. Feel free to contact me at dreamsandcolour[at]hotmail[dot]com

    Also, would you be interested in working on a project related to grandchildren with grandparents who have Alzheimer's disease?


  3. I wouldn’t claim to know everything you’re battling with, but I know it is hard to be in your position. I can only extend my compassion and I’m glad you are staying strong. Don’t lose hope. Be everyone’s strength if you can. :] I’m sure your granny would enjoy it if you play Sing Along with her. Sing with her the songs she used to sing. Music has that power to skip the journey to the brain and go straight into one’s heart even though the heart is stimulated by the brain. I’ll be praying for your family; above all, your grandma. :]

  4. I used to live with my grandma when I was a kid, so I have developed a strong relationship with her. That's why I can feel your sentiments toward your grandmother. If my grandma gets ill, I will also be worried and sad. I was moved with your blog post especially the last two statements. What you can do at this moment is to let her feel the love you have for her. She's very grateful to have a granddaughter like you.