My name is Rachel and I do it all.
Today I am a granddaughter.
When I was visiting my parents the other day, my mother tried calling her mother (who only lives about 3 miles away from their house) but she didn’t answer. Interestingly enough, my mom wasn’t too terribly concerned; my grandmother’s phone often randomly decides to turn itself off. Nevertheless, Mom still wanted me to stop in on my way to work to double check that she was okay.
I stopped by and, sure enough, my Grandmom was just sitting in her armchair playing her hand-held Solitaire game. I made sure to turn her phone back on and, since I had a few minutes to spare, sat down with her to keep her company. My grandfather has been dead for about 10 years now so usually it’s just her and her cat Smokey alone in their single-wide trailer.
Smokey, who is usually terribly shy, came out from the back room when he heard my unfamiliar voice. He surprised both Grandmom and I by circling around my feet and letting me softly pet his neck. As he was doing this, Grandmom proceeded to tell me the story of how Smokey came into her life:
“It was about 16 years ago. Your mother was driving up this very road. She noticed that the car in front of her threw a cardboard box out the window. She was rather annoyed that they littered, but didn’t do a double take….until she noticed the cardboard box move. She carefully pulled over, opened the box, and there was Smokey.
“She walked through the door with him cradled in her arms and told me, ‘I have a present for you….I think.’ I took him to the vet and they guess-timated him to be a little over a year ago. He’s been around ever since.”
I nodded throughout her story. I gasped when I was supposed to. Kept my eyes wide in fascination. It’s a touching story, right?
….except it’s completely false.
Smokey belonged to a friend of our family. They already had a houseful of pets and noticed that Smokey wasn’t necessarily playing well with the other animals. It had been about 5 years since my grandfather had passed and my grandmother’s 15+ year old dog had recently been put down. We couldn’t bear the thought of her being in her house without some form of constant companionship, so we suggested to our friend that we give the cat to her. And that’s what we did.
That was only about 5 years ago.
You see, my dear grandmother is experiencing early stages of dementia.
It started with her forgetting little things: where she put her car keys, why she went into the kitchen, etc. Honestly, things that I tend to forget from time to time. It progressed to forgetting to take her PM medicine, forgetting doctor’s appointments and even forgetting where she was going.
Here’s the thing, though:
When I walked into her house the other day, she greeted me using my name which showed she remembered me.
When she was telling me her incredibly detailed (albeit completely made-up) story about Smokey, she seemed to recall this story fondly.
She’s not in any extreme pain. She hasn’t forgotten who her loved ones are. She’s not hurting herself or anybody else (physically) by living in this made-up world that is in her head. She has children, in-laws, neighbors and grandchildren that check in with her periodically to see if she needs anything, if she’s okay or just to sit and chat. For the most part—she’s happy. And I thank God every day for all of those things.
I know that there are many people out there who are struggling with loved ones who have very developed Alzheimer’s or dementia and, chances are, my grandmother is probably headed that way. This is why I find it very important to savor and cherish the time that we have with these loved one while they are lucid and be grateful for the sanity that remains.