It’s been my privilege to help behind-the-scenes as Nancy Rue mentors tweens and teens on the blog communities she has created for them. Every now and then, as I read through their comments, one of the young women will say something that resonates deep within me, and with Nancy’s permission, I’ll reach out to them with an emailed word of encouragement. How I’ve learned and grown and been challenged by these interactions. My friend Paige–older and wiser than she realizes–was one such connection. My life has been enriched in ways I cannot even express because of it, and I couldn’t be more honoured than to have her share this story on my blog today.
by Paige Kisner
Mom told me while we were shopping together for groceries. She slipped it into the conversation casually, like we wished it could be a normal dialogue. Five years ago, we would have laughed, who could eat a tissue when trying to eat a BLT sandwich? Who? Oh, if only we could laugh. Oh, if only we could call this an abnormal thing to hear. But it wasn’t five years ago, and we now knew the truth: my grandmother has dementia.
The last time I went down to see my grandparents had been two weeks prior to the tissue occurrence. We hadn’t seen each other in over six months, and I was feeling rather guilty. Still, a lot had happened in my life that had left me lacking the time to travel down and see them. I’d completed another semester of college, gotten married, and become a homeowner.
As we walked into the nursing home, I slipped my hand into my husband’s and took a deep breath. What parts of me had been erased from her memory this time? It was a painful question, but one I found myself considering each time I went to see her. “Please, God, just please let her remember my face,” I found myself praying.
When we walked into the building, I immediately saw my grandparents, sitting only 15 feet away. My grandfather smiled and waved, and I caught my breath, waiting for my grandmother to see me. I watched her blank face for a moment, before recognition spread across it.
She knew who I was. No, she didn’t remember that my husband’s name was Zac, and I doubt she would have understood who he was without me. She even forgot my name a few times in conversation, and she didn’t understand when it was proper to use silverware at mealtime. But she remembered my face.
At the end of the meal, after hearing five times about how the Keruig machine was broken and they had to ask an employee to bring us all coffee, Zac showed my grandparents some of our wedding photos. They said all the things seemingly mandated of grandparents: “We’re so proud of you,” “You both looked so lovely,” “We wish we could have traveled the distance to come to your wedding.”
And then, in the midst of their delight over our pictures, the moment I had been waiting for happened. My grandmother paused, and began to retell the story that I’d heard a million times:
“Target?” I filled in for her.
“Yes, when we went there and all the other girls went running about. And you stayed with me and you held my hand and everything was so confusing, but you stayed with me.”
A lump formed in my throat. She told me this story every time, but that didn’t stop the tears from coming.
No, my grandmother doesn’t remember my name, nor does she recognize my husband. She has a hard time remembering who my mom is in relation to me, and she can’t use basic utensils without some sort of instruction. That’s the brutal truth of the matter.
However, in one way, her dementia has done something beautiful to her memory. My grandmother doesn’t remember how long it took me to come down and see her. She doesn’t remember the times I visited when I was younger and spent too much time looking at my phone. She has no memory of my selfishness, my impatience, or my controlling nature. I am just the granddaughter that held her in the hand and never left her side, that one time, in that one store.
I don’t mean to sensationalize dementia. It’s a horrible disease, one I would wish upon nobody. It’s not like all bad memories go first, leaving pleasant ones behind. The sad fact of the matter is there are grandkids that she no longer likes, remembering only the most recent, most horrible interactions. But, I think there’s something to be learned from my grandmother’s sole vivid memory of me.
What if we all did that? What if we intentionally forgot the painful and bitter memories we have of people in our lives, and instead, clung to the ones that make us feel secure, loved, appreciated? What kind of person might we become?
Paige Kisner is a student at Mansfield University, studying Professional Writing, History, and Political Science. When she’s not nose-deep in homework, she enjoys baking, reading the news, and exploring new places. She dreams of one day traveling to Iceland to see the Crystal Caves.