Rome, New York -- Earlier this week I traveled home to Upstate New York to spend some time with my family. While I was there I visited with my 96-year-old grandmother every single day.
My grandmother's name is Nancy and she has dementia. It's a terrible disease and it's warped her mind.
I've since returned to Denver and had time to reflect on my trip. While most of the time I spent with my grandmother was heartbreaking, there was one moment in particular I'll forever be grateful for. This Thanksgiving I wanted to share that 'thankful' moment with you folks.
You can read about it in my blog post:
The conversation happening around us sounded muffled. I couldn’t even make out who was talking.
I was sitting inside my grandmother’s living room, lying on a couch adjacent to another couch - where my grandmother was snuggled up - just about five feet away.
The people talking were in the room; there were three of them. Judging by the expression growing on my grandmother’s face, I could tell she wasn’t paying close attention to their conversation, either.
My grandmother and I were both quiet. But deep down inside, I was shouting with frustration and soaked with sadness.
In just a few weeks, my grandmother will turn 96. Her birthday is December 13.
Whatever sort of celebration is held on that day to mark the occasion, she won’t remember any of it. SImply because she has dementia.
Unless you spend everyday with her, she has a tough time remembering who you are or how she knows you. The disease has riddled her mind so much, we have to leave a note card by her side everyday saying which day it is.
This is especially difficult for me given how close my grandmother and I were growing up.
My grandmother basically raised my sister and I until I was 13 (My biological father left my mom, my sister and I when I was born - so my mom was left to raise us by herself).
My mom is a tough cookie (her nickname is actually, ‘Cookie’) and she refused to take any child support; she wanted to raise my sister and I solo without anyone’s help. Especially the help of a deadbeat dad.
That meant she worked all the time. Anytime over-time hours made themselves available, she jumped at them. In turn, my grandmother (Nancy) jumped in to watch my sister (Angel) and I.
My mother gets her tough personality from my grandmother. See, Nancy was also a hard worker. She refused to retire until she was 89 (and that’s only because she had an injury which forced her to stay at home).
In the last six years since her retirement, my grandmother’s dementia has gotten worse. When I arrived at her home on Friday, she looked at me and said, ‘Who’s that, Cookie?’. ‘That’s Kevin. My son, Kevin. From Colorado. Your grandson. He’s here to visit you’.
My heart sunk a little, but I was well aware of the situation.
‘Oh, Kevin! I barely recognized you’. She said.
We made some small talk, but it was clear she was still confused as to who I was -- so I didn’t push too hard.
Each day since then I’ve spent a couple hours by my grandmother’s side. It’s tough when I live so far away and only see her once a year. But that’s the reality -- and I accept that.
‘It’s sad,’ my mom told me, referring to my grandmother’s situation.
Well, while that conversation was happening that afternoon (the one I was referring to in the beginning of this post - when my grandmother and I were sitting alone in the living room in silence - something beautiful happened).
Leading up to this moment, my grandmother was having a bad day. She kept forgetting who I was and referred to me as ‘Frankie’ (my uncle) at least a dozen times.
As we were sitting on the couches in silence, my grandmother lifted her head up, which caught my attention and simply whispered to me, choking back tears, and said, ‘Kevin… Kevin… Kevin…’
I responded quietly, ‘...Yes?’
‘I’m sorry I forget…’ she said, almost sounding embarrassed. ‘But I remember… I remember and I will never, ever forget you. Even if my mind makes it hard sometimes, I still remember - and I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you, Kevin. I will always love you’.
Although it was a sad day, I will forever be grateful for that short, beautiful, moment.
For life is nothing more than a series of moments...
I teared up and said, ‘I love you too grandma - forever and for always’. She then looked down and drifted back into dementia.
We both stood there in silence for another five minutes until she looked back up over at me, as if I were a stranger, and said: ‘Excuse me… do you know what day it is?’
“...It’s Monday, grandma. And I’m Kevin...”
Although it was a sad day, I will forever be grateful for that one... small... moment.
For life is nothing more than a series of moments....