I was so very blessed to know my Grandmother, aka “Nanny”. She turned 93 about two weeks before she passed away in 2015.
There is so much in my high school history book that she actually LIVED THROUGH. I’m amazed at some of the stories she has told me. One thing nagged me though. It was constantly on my heart and in my head… The Grandmother I once knew was no longer ‘here’. Physically, she sat before me. Mentally, she was gone.
Nanny had Alzheimer’s.
I used to call her all the time. We would have wonderful, hilarious conversations about the most random things. When the Alzheimer’s got worse, I still called her but not as often. Some days, I think I confused her more by calling her. It was very difficult to deal with this. In some ways, I felt like I had lost one of my best friends.
I missed taking her to the doctor. Her doctors all loved her. They would tell her how good she looked and how well she was doing for her age.
I missed taking her to lunch. We would sit at Wendy’s and she would make fun of all the “old people”.
I missed arguing with her at the bagel counter over who was paying. <-One time, she hit me with her cane on the back of my leg. I started laughing, but I finally agreed to let her pay for my bagel and juice. She was overjoyed I let her.
I missed her funny feisty side. I told her a little girl who was picking on Mini and when I went to talk to the Mother about it, the woman informed me she thought it was “cute” her daughter was a brat. Nanny said “you’re kidding” as I was talking. When I finished she said “Oh, she’s lucky I wasn’t there!” People often wonder where I get my fighter nature from 🙂
I missed driving around with her. She would make hilariously inappropriate comments as she climbed into my truck. She lifted her feet off the floor when I made turns. I don’t know why and I never asked her to explain it to me. It was just one of her quirks.
Mostly, I missed her stories.
Oh, the stories! She would tell us about the place where she grew up in Brooklyn. It’s a laundromat now. I once showed her around her neighborhood through the “magic” of a map app’s “Street View”. She was amazed at how much it had changed. I saw a light in her eyes as she showed me where things were and where she hung out.
It was challenging to explain what is going on with Mini, who absolutely adored Nanny. Mini used to get super confused when Nan repeated conversations. She was great at adjusting and took each visit with Nan as it came.
I heard a song once and it explained it all. It has helped me tremendously through this time and has eased my mind on more than one occasions.
“She’s gonna fly when her time here is through. First she’ll have to let go of some things she can’t use. People and places, memories and faces, are just way too heavy it seems to carry on angel’s wings…”
So, how did I deal with Nanny’s disease? Slowly but surely. Day by day. Visit by visit. I took the good visits when they came and the bad ones for what they were.
For one thing, I never got angry with her or laughed at her. This is very important. They have no idea what has happened or is happening at times. That can be frightening and panic-inducing.
We once had the same conversation repeatedly for over an hour. Yes, it was exhausting. Yes, it was kinda funny. I resisted the temptation to laugh or tell her we already discussed this.
Sometimes, she was completely present and it was just like ‘old times’. Other times, she had no idea what was going on and said the most random things.
I was asked by several people why I would still insist on visiting, if she had no idea who I was anymore.
Why wouldn’t I?
Whether her mind is there or not, she is still my Nanny. She was still the person who brought us treats and toys as kids. She was still the matriarch of the family. I still loved hanging out with her, whether she taxed my emotions or not.
I shared memories with her. She smiled as I told her that she held my daughter when Mini was just two days old. She pointed towards the living room where Mini was watching tv. “Her?” That made me laugh because Mini was 8 at the time and big for her age. I told her yes, her.
Share stories and memories. Thank them for being such a special part of your life. Most importantly though, don’t get angry or exasperated with them. This is just as hard on them as it is on you.