Parenting

Still Grandma

As we do most Sundays, we’re visiting Grandma Rachelle (Jack’s mom) at her nursing home. Downstairs in the coffee shop, we’re enjoying ice cream together.

“Guess what?” Jack says. “Talia is starting school again on Tuesday.”

Silence.

He points to me and to Tal. “That’s Amy. She’s my wife. And that’s Talia. She’s your granddaughter.”

“My granddaughter? Oh…..” Grandma says.

Jack continues: “Talia went to riding camp this summer. What was your horse’s name, Tal?”

Talia: “Beetle.”

Rachelle is silent.

He points at Tal. “That’s Talia. She’s your granddaughter,” he explains again.

“My granddaughter?” Rachelle asks.

After our snack, we sit together on a bench in the outside garden. Tal sits patiently for 15 minutes before saying: “It’s time to go.”

Together we take Rachelle back upstairs. As we walk through the main lounge area, Talia smiles nervously. Residents in wheelchairs sit around a large screen tv watching Barbra Streisand in Hello Dolly. Most doze. One younger woman with Down Syndrome clutches a doll. We all give Rachelle hugs goodbye.

As we drive away, Tal whispers from the backseat, “It was overwhelming.”

“Did you feel overwhelmed visiting Grandma in the nursing home?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“Me too, Tal,” I say.

Overwhelmed. Talia has never used that word before. Overwhelmed that Grandma doesn’t know her anymore. Grandma–who used to read my girls Robert Munsch stories and sing nursery rhymes in English, French and Flemish. Grandma–who loved outings with us to art galleries, children’s museums, stores and playgrounds.Grandma–who canned her own peaches and roasted chicken with fresh oranges.

Grandma Rachelle. My mother-in-law. Often she told me: “I’m lucky to have you for a daughter-in-law. You make Jack happy. And that makes me happy. Talia’s so lucky to have you and Jack for parents. Look how far she’s come.”

Dementia is cruel. I wonder if Tal understands why Grandma has changed. We try to explain. Bottom line– she’s still Rachelle. Still Jack’s mom. Still Grandma to my girls. Still cherishing her granddaughters. Even if she doesn’t remember who they are.