dementia

My Mother and Hers: Caregiving and Dementia

 

My grandmother was born January 24, 1905; it's hard to say when the dementia began, but by the mid 80's it was full blown. I always said that as the dementia advanced Grandmama got sweeter and sweeter to the point that she was just pure sugar by the time she passed away in 1994. For the last five years of her life, Grandmama lived with her youngest daughter, my mother. In this post from 2009, I recall some snippets from those last few years.

“I know someone who will take care of me,” my grandmother told us from the shelter of my mother’s arms. We’d been picking on her—trying to awaken the feisty grandmama we used to have before dementia kidnapped her. She had had about enough of our shenanigans when my mother walked through the room. Grandmama pushed herself up from her chair, walked straight to Mother, tucked her head into Mother’s shoulder, and looked back at us, triumphant.

She was right. My mother, her daughter, took care of her, loving her through the fog of memory loss. Mother loved Grandmama enough to keep her busy, despite the obvious limitations. She kept a jar of coins handy and would pour it out on the kitchen table for Grandmama. “Could you count these for me, Mother,” my mother would say to hers, “It would sure be a big help to me.” And Grandmama would set about sorting and stacking, making sure her towers of coinage were just so. Mother had Grandmama count those coins, water plants, or fold clothes because everyone needs to feel needed. Everyone needs something to do.

Mother loved Grandmama enough to bless her with beauty. On the screened-in porch where Grandmama loved to sit in her rocking chair, Mother kept flowering plants in Grandmama’s favorite colors. “Look Grandmama! Isn’t that beautiful?” we’d say, pointing to a plant she had already seen a dozen times. She would turn to look, her eyes brightening at the sight that was brand new to her. “Ewwweee! What a pretty flower! Look at those purple blooms. You know, I’ve always loved purple.” We knew.

Mother loved Grandmama enough to keep telling her story to her. “Mother, how many children did you and Daddy have?” Mother would prompt her. “Well, now, let me see. . .” Grandmama would begin, searching the faces in her memory. She loved thinking about her children, even though she didn’t really recognize their adult versions any more.

Watching Mother care for Grandmama back then, I wanted to put into words somehow my appreciation for the sacrifices she was making. (Grandmama and Granddaddy had moved in with my parents shortly before my Granddaddy died in 1989.) I wrote this poem in the early 90’s in honor of Mother, in memory of Grandmama.

TO MY GRANDMOTHER’S KEEPER

In the darkness of her mind,
children blend with siblings;
reality slips into the forgotten past.
Words,
Having
wandered
aimlessly
from
brain
to mouth, tumble out in jumbled speech.

Alone, but not,
She searches her audience
for a sign
of understanding.

Longing,
her foggy eyes
find your focus;
her life-worn frame
folds into your
familiar embrace;
the gray cloud of her mind releases showers of tears.

With firm assurance
you
call her in
from her private storm.

Knowing it is her greatest fear, you tell her,
(again):“You will never be alone. Never.”

And fleeting comfort shelters her.
And that is all you need.

Happy Birthday Grandmama!

About the Author Aileen Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 28 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.

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5 comments
Harold Mitchell says January 24, 2014

beautiful tribute to BOTH mothers! thank you for reminding me again..she was a very special lady.

Reply
Anonymous says January 26, 2015

always a great reminder of our mother/daughter love. I have always been so thankful that Daddy and I could finish her journey there in our home.
Thanks for sharing this again and again.

Reply
Other Mary says February 1, 2017

How very touching. My mother had dimentia too, Alzheimer's. And she too, for the most part, became sweeter and sweeter. I am glad your grandmother had such loving care.

Reply
    Aileen Lawrimore says February 1, 2017

    We found that dementia isn't all bad, though it certainly is not something you want for yourself or family members. There were sweet, tender moments that never would have happened if Grandmama had remained completely lucid and cognizant. Of course, I don't believe her difficulties were ordained--but I do believe she, we, experienced times of victorious redemption as well. Thanks for reading!

    Reply
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