I miss my Grandma.
I miss all my family, but this is a bit different.
It’s not just about the pandemic, though it really hasn’t helped matters granted. I’ve probably missed my Grandma in some form for more than a decade, you see she has Alzheimer’s disease.
I’ve tried many times to articulate my feelings around this with varying degrees of success. Anyone in the same situation will understand that, Alzheimer’s and dementia is an utter bastard – I’d actually use a stronger word beginning with ‘C’ but my mum will read this and reprimand me for my language, despite the fact I’m 35.
Alzheimer’s is watching someone disappear, very, very, slowly, not exactly a groundbreaking thought but it is all I’ve got.
I miss the woman she was while I was growing up.
The woman who’d insist on making you eat rice pudding, ice cream and scones for dessert on a Sunday, she was a massive feeder and it’s some minor miracle I wasn’t a 30 stone teenager. The woman who desperately tried to make sure there was food my brother Matt would eat – he was a very fussy child with some questionable eating habits.
I miss the trips to Blackpool – she was OBSESSED with place, would have moved there given half the chance.
I miss sneaking to have a look at the beautiful porcelain doll that still stands in her old bedroom.
I miss being shown the clothes she’d bought that week (always lots) I miss her wanting to see the new clothes I’d got with a ‘ooooh save it for me’.
I miss being called every other female name going before she got to mine.
I miss her singing Doris Day ‘Whatever will be, will be’ and ‘How much is that doggy in the window’ – though she still sings A LOT.
I miss the hugs and her always being pleased to see us. Wanting to know what we’d been up to.
I miss the Christmases, which is probably why I’m thinking about this. I remember one year, Mathew had just been born, getting a special present, a teddy the tag said
“Dear Sarah, this a special gift to say thank you for being such a good girl helping with your brothers, Merry Christmas lots of love Santa”.
I loved that teddy and was over the moon, I took it EVERYWHERE. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise that Santa and my Grandma had identical handwriting. It’s still under my bed waiting to be sent off for repair.
It’s these times I miss but I am grateful for the memories – I’m well aware of the irony of that statement.
That’s not to say I’m not grateful for the time I’ve had since Alzheimer’s. It’s an odd journey; yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s sad and yes, it’s shit, but there are also moments of humour (black at times) and love.
It’s almost been like getting to know a completely different woman, one that I’ve not known to be my Grandma – she always seemed quite proper, polite and restrained. There seems to be a certain kind of freedom with Alzheimer’s – I mean who hasn’t wanted to shout shut up at someone who’s being annoying once in a while?
I’ve been told stories by Grandma that I’d never heard before, I’m not sure if I’d ever have found them out without Alzheimer’s.
She’s told me about being a girl and having to go into the air raid shelter on the Blackburn street she grew up on. It was by all accounts, dirty, and generally used as a toilet by the men; they only went in once, her mother reasoning that “If we’re going to die, we’ll die in our beds”, fair enough.
She told me about doing an air raid drill at school, having to run across muddy fields and ruining a new pair of shoes. She was still annoyed about having ruined said shoes more than sixty years later – I’d be exactly the same.
I’ve heard how she met my Grandad; he’d gone over to Blackburn for a night out with friend, they were both “up Tony’s”, some kind of dance hall. She spotted him and – these are her words – said “Who’s that, I’m having him”.
I have been told many, many, many times how much it was for the train to Blackpool and a ticket to the tower and about exploits in various places she worked.
In many ways, she reminds me of, well, me. Her dirty looks can be withering – I’m told mine can be the same.
She has no idea who I am, I remember the first time that became clear, she told me it’d been nice to meet me on Christmas Day – at least she said it had been nice.
I’m lucky, she’s nice to me. She’s introduced me to carers at the home as her “very best friend” and admitted that was why she speaking posh and behaving. She’s told me many times I’m “very kind for visiting” and on one occasion, which was lovely and upsetting all at the same time “Don’t feel like you have to stay if it’s going to make you upset”.
Don’t get me wrong, if she’s in a bad mood or irritated, everyone knows about it (that would also be me).
If she likes a top or a coat she’ll still say “Save it for me” – considering she’s about seven stone wet through and I’m not, I can safely say her wearing any of my clothes will resemble a child playing dress up with adult’s clothes.
It’s sad too, I’m sad for all the things she’s missed. I’m sad she doesn’t remember my wedding. I think she’d be mortified at the thought of having missing my cousin’s wedding and the fact she won’t be at my brother’s (whenever Covid allows it to happen). She’d have been very excited. She’d have made a huge fuss over her first great grandchild.
When it comes to Alzheimer’s, everyone talks about forgetting, the other cruelty is the memories you’ve yet to make that it robs you of too.
I’ve been thinking about my Grandma a lot this past week, probably because of the debate around care home visiting. I hate the fact she broke her hip and had to be in hospital alone, I laughed when the ward sister said she said she was “good spirits, keeping everyone entertained and leading the ward in a sing song”, I thought that was fairly typical, as I said, she still sings a lot.
I hate the fact no one saw her on her birthday, I know the home made a fuss of her and she was her usual cheeky self – it really brightened my day.
I’ve loved seeing the videos and pictures of what she’s been up to, even if her answer to “name an animal beginning with S” was Sarah…thanks Grandma.
I know she’s cared for; I know she’s fine. I do wonder if she thinks she’s been abandoned. I know no one can ever know that sure.
I know I’d love to see her.
I miss being told “haven’t you got sturdy legs? They aren’t twiggy, little, spindly things” – I can’t be sure, but I think there’s a compliment in there somewhere and to be fair, she’s right, I do have sturdy legs.
I don’t know what the answer is to care home visiting and how to make it safe. I know a screen with all the rules probably wouldn’t work in my Grandma’s case. Whenever my Grandad goes to visit, they hug and hold hands, I don’t know if she’d get why she wasn’t allowed to do that, I think it’d make her upset and possibly angry.
I don’t want to go in gung-ho and wipe out her or an entire care home for that matter, but there’s got to be some kind of middle ground.
What I do know is that I’d hate something to happen to her and not having seen her for God knows how many months.
P.S Big love to all the staff and families at Lumb Valley Care Home – you do a wonderful job and I know you love her like I do
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm