My grandma doesn’t recognize me.
I don’t write that sentence with any sort of malice or anger. It’s simply a statement of fact, reality, acceptance of the way things are.
My grandmother has been living in a nursing home for years and has lived in the Alzheimer’s unit of a nursing home near my hometown since January. At the least, she has some form of dementia. At the worst, Alzheimer’s. It’s really hard, sometimes, to see her and remember the person she was and to see what she’s become.
I always thought my grandma was kind of pretty as far as grandmas go. She has snowy white hair that she used to get done every Friday at the beauty shop. She had rosy cheeks and smiled a lot. She liked to share things with you or bring you little gifts of something she’d found, made, or picked up somewhere that she thought you might like.
When I walked into the nursing home to visit her last weekend, she looked somehow faded, confused, and older than I remembered. My mom and I walked up and she told us it had been a really long day. She rubbed her face the way she used to and looked exhausted. My mom asked if Grandma remembered Mandy and motioned toward me, and my grandma said, looking straight into my eyes:
“I remember Mandy. I haven’t seen her around much lately. But I still love her.”
And then she repeated it, as if just for me.
“I still love her.”
The reality is that the Grandma I knew is all but gone. Her memories are fading and sometimes she’s hard to please and angry. But I still love her, too. And I will respect and fight that she get the best care we can give her for the rest of her life.
After awhile, we helped my grandma move to her table for dinner and talked with her a little about what she was going to eat. We left before they served the meal, my mom leaning over to hug my grandma and tell her she’d be back soon.
I hugged my grandma and told her I loved her and I’d see her again as soon as I could.
She replied: “Bye, Sis. I love you.”
My grandma used to call me Sis, sometimes. But it’s also possible that she uses that word when she doesn’t remember or recognize someone. I don’t know if that moment was a moment of clarity and recognition for her.
But I know it was a gift for me.
My grandma—who hasn’t told me she loved me in most of the visits I’ve made to her in these years that she’s been in the nursing home—told me she loved me twice in a 30 minute visit.
So I won’t spend my time wondering if she really knew who I was or not. I’ll just accept the gift of her “I love you.” These moments don’t come often.
And I don’t think they’re coincidences, either. They’re gifts from God, the loving Father who wants us to remember that we are loved, even when we think we’ve been forgotten.