“Hi honey!” I can still hear my grandma’s voice in my head; this was her greeting every time I walked into my grandparents’ home. Then, without fail, she would always ask if I wanted something to eat. If I close my eyes, I can hear the tick tock of the pendulum clock in their living room and almost smell the aroma of something baking in the kitchen. I smile as I remember the embellished shirts she gave me, covered with geometric patterns of unknown origin, during her prolific sweatshirt decorating period. But aside from some of her questionable crafting choices, I do treasure one of the beautiful landscapes she painted hanging in my room right now. Still, one of the most peaceful memories of my time with her was sitting out on her front porch in swinging chairs, watching the world go by and chatting about everything and nothing.
When she began to forget small things, I thought it might just be normal aging. When she was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, I knew it was the beginning of a long and difficult road. A road that would lead ultimately to dementia. She was the same person, but I was beginning to see the little changes, as if a shadow was blocking out the light from reaching her mind. The dread of losing her piece by piece began to weigh on me. I would hold my breath each time I went to visit her, wondering if this would be the time she would forget who I am. The tears would come at random times, without warning, as I could begin to feel the essence of her slipping away, like steam dissipating into the air around it. As she began to talk less and less, her eyes took on a constant perplexed, almost suspicious look to them, like the person I knew for so long wasn’t there anymore. This made those lucid and fleeting moments when she would return to me all the more special.
I am thankful that I had my Grandma in my life for as long as I did. I am thankful for the lessons I learned from her. I saw her giving spirit, as she served others in her church and fed everyone around her. I am thankful for her sense of humor; sharing laughing fits until tears ran down her face. She had feistiness that balanced her sweetness: “When the farmers’ sons looked my direction, I just looked the other way. I was not going to be a farmer’s wife!”, she told me. Though it mellowed with time, her temper matched her naturally auburn red hair. Rumor had it she once baked cookies with chocolate laxative pieces for her sisters to get back at them for a squabble between siblings. By watching her and my Grandpa, I saw what a loving and strong marriage is; one that endured for over 70 years.
One of the most painful parts of dealing with my Grandma’s dementia was the feeling of losing her twice, once to dementia and again in death. I am grateful I was able to spend time holding her hand, talking to her and stroking her hair, even if she could not respond by that point. Then, when her soul silently and peacefully slipped away, my sadness was tempered by the realization that her pain had ended and she was absolutely free from the cage dementia had locked her mind up in. I truly believe that she is now in a happy, peaceful place that is beautiful beyond anything in my imagination. I can picture her in Heaven, young and vibrant, her silver hair now a deep, brilliant auburn once again.