Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Turning Ninety With Dementia

Me with Grandma

Today is my Grandma's 90th Birthday - 90th! It's such an incredible age to reach; there are so many people who don't get to anywhere near 90, and yet Grandma has.

My uncle threw her a birthday barbecue on Sunday, and there were quite a few family members there. Four sons, two daughters-in-law, and three granddaughters. One uncle brought his two dogs over as Grandma loves them, and another uncle is visiting for the week from Denmark especially for her birthday. It was a lovely, lovely day, and she really enjoyed herself.

Reaching 90, Grandma is bound to have had a wealth of experiences. She has seven children, 13 grandchildren, and three great grandchildren. Because of two of her sons living in various places over the years, she's visited a number of countries. There are so many things I would love to ask her, but so many things I'll never know the answer to.

Why? Because Grandma has vascular dementia.

She's at the point now where we have to say "Mum" or "Grandma" in every sentence, just so she knows we're family. She recognises some of her sons, because they visit fairly regularly - especially one, as he lives literally two minutes down the road - but the rest of us, she has no clue.

She used to live in Clacton, but when she left home one day with carrier bags full of knitting, walking in  the snowing in a dressing gown, telling a concerned person who drive by that she was walking to London, her doctor said she could no longer live alone. So we moved her back to London, and each of her three sons would take it in turns to have her a week or so at a time, but it wasn't really ideal. Our homes aren't built for elderly women, with bathrooms at the top of stairs, and all of them worked at the time.  The wives - my Mum and my aunts - would look after her during the day, but she could be very irritable and quick to anger, and sometimes aggressive. Grandma was adamant she wanted to "go home", but she forgot she had lived in Denmark, and was giving the addresses of houses she lived in when my Dad was a child, houses that no longer existed. She tried to break out of my uncle's house by banging on the glass of the front door with the heel of my aunt's shoe, she went to hit her with the shoe, before my uncle managed to stop her, and she would say the most vicious things. My Mum would end up in tears each day with the verbal abuse Grandma would hurl at her. Mum and Grandma have always got on so well, they loved each other, but her dementia made her nasty. It was when she climbed through a window at my uncle's in the middle of the night, and the police were out searching for her in cars and helicopters that we were finally told we were simply unable to give her the care she needed anymore. She had to go into a home.

Now, you can have the same conversation with her five to six times within 15 minutes. She is very suspicious and distrustful of men other than the sons she recognises. Even when my brother calls her Grandma, she always watches him, as if waiting for him to do something awful.

It's so terribly sad. Especially now I'm a proper adult with questions, not just a child and a teenager who doesn't think to ask such things.

I'll never know what it was like for her to live through World War II.

I'll never know why she was brought up believing her mother was her sister.

I'll never know what it was like to be shunned for having a baby out of wedlock.

I'll never know how she got through, when there was so little money coming in - to the point that sometimes she and my Granddad would have to go without food a day or two a week, just to make sure their children ate.

I'll never know how she felt when three of her children signed up to the armed forces, following in their Dad's footsteps.

I'll never know how she felt about her eldest moving to Denmark, and another son getting a job that took him all over the world.

I'll never know she felt when her first grandchild was born.

And I'll never know, because her memories can't be trusted. We've had a number of conversations which lead on to recollections of things that absolutely never happened. She never worked at Spurs and looked after the boys. She never wrote a song. She's never met my cousin's fiance, and never gave her advice she never asked for about him. But all these things happened as far as she's concerned. She remembers them, in great detail. She has such an imagination! But her memories aren't correct, and so I can't ask my questions, as I'll only get made up stories in return.

All her history has been robbed from her by this awful condition, as well as her independence and so much else.

I no longer know this lady who looks like my Grandma, like she no longer knows me.

But today is her 90th Birthday, and she so enjoyed the cards, the flowers, the sweets and the company today. Even thought she would have forgotten we had been there two minutes after we left.

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