Forgetfulness vs. Grandma-ness
“When I get better,” she announced, “I will start washing my own dishes again. You’ve done enough.” She paused. “After all this is over, I’m going to make sure that you never have to wash another dish again.”
I resisted the urge to crack a smile, and maintained a serious look on my face. “Thank you Grandma, I really appreciate that.”
“Believe me. You will be rewarded for all that you do for me.”
She stood up from the table with noticeable effort, and shuffled toward her room to lie back down. A minute later, I got up effortlessly, and tossed her paper plate in the trash.
My grandmother’s gratitude overwhelms me. I’ve been her full-time caregiver for the past few months. I bathe her, fix her meals, and oversee her medical care. Because of dementia, my grandmother has lost the ability to cope with daily living. A few weeks ago, she grieved the loss of a dear friend. The friend had died 20 years ago. She often forgets that she has a third grandson who lives in another state. Grandma knows that something horrible is happening to her, but the disease itself doesn’t permit her to remember what that “something” is, no matter how many days we explain it.
So here’s my question: After all that she’s been through, all that she’s lost, all that she’s forgotten, how does she remember to worry about me?
One day, Grandma scolded me for bending down to tie her shoes. I had told her about my aching back the day before. My grandmother seldom remembers “days before”—so how did she remember that?
Another evening, I went to bed with a stomachache. The following morning, the first thing she asked was “How does your stomach feel?” This was before breakfast, before going to the bathroom, before she even registered what time of day it was. Mornings are the most disorienting times of the day for her. Yet she retained the memory that I had had a stomachache the night before.
Sometimes she’ll look at me after I’ve cleaned her off or helped her into bed and say, “Do I have any money? I’d like to give you some,” as if I’m her paid employee.
Sure, I can chalk some of her comments up to guilt. My grandmother doesn’t want to be a burden on anyone. But I think that it goes beyond that. Grandma is…still a grandmother. That same nurturing instinct is there. She still longs to protect and even spoil me. Forgetfulness has not robbed Grandma of “Grandma-ness.”
I realize that not everyone is blessed to have a grandparent like her. Back to the breakfast table this morning… I was multi-tasking—working on a project for church, responding to emails, and half listening to her ramble on. Suddenly, my ears perked up. She was reminiscing about something that happened a long time ago. She was 18, and had gone down south to visit her dying grandmother. On the return trip up north, her grandmother died. I asked what she remembered about her grandmother. “Oh, she was always the serious one. Mean. And she didn’t treat my momma too good, or us.”
Here’s what strikes me: my grandmother didn’t learn how to be grateful—she chose to be. She didn’t learn to be a kind, loving grandmother—she chose to be.
It’s easy to see the negative sides of forgetfulness. But now I see a positive side—forgetting about ourselves to care about others. This is what we have to do as caregivers every day; and that’s also what my grandma does for me.
When I think about my grandma’s selfless love for me, I think about God’s love for His children. He writes: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15) Even if Grandma forgets my name, my face, and all the things I did for her, I know that she will never forget her love for me, nor mine for her.
Happy Grandparent’s Day, Grandma.