A Better Granddaughter

By the time my Grandma died, she no longer knew me. She barely remembered her children (her biggest smiles reserved for her youngest – my uncle) or her doting husband, who sat by her side, silent in his grief at watching the shell of his wife slip away.

Her soul had gone ahead, as is so often the case with Alzheimer’s, and the family were left with her physical presence to manage – a series of care facilities and hospitals providing for her once she was no longer able to be cared for at home.

Eventually she had become violent – my sweet, peaceful, smiling Grandma; who had been a nursing Sister held in wide, high regard; who had taught me to bake rock cakes, talking me through the recipe as I stood diminutively by the chest-freezer we used as workspace; who loved her garden and had a resident toad (to eat the slugs)…violent? Aggressive? Unable to comprehend the circumstances shifting around her as her closing mind fought against the final ravages of its condition, she lashed out at those who were entrusted with her care.

Before the end, though, she was quiet – compliant as a child – laying in bed and staring at nothing. She no longer retained the capability to interact or engage, sometimes looking questioningly at the relatives around her, but vaguely, as though the very process of enquiry were too much.

I went to see her. I was scared and skittish – not knowing what to expect or how to behave. I brought a tiny, lavender-filled pillow and laid it next to her head, hoping that she might at least recognise one of her favourite scents. I ignored her blank eyes, patted her arm (awkwardly) and kissed her downy cheek for the final time.

My Dad (her eldest) was with her when she died. He thought she had already stopped breathing, and was checking to see if he should call for a nurse, when she suddenly came to, looked at him – looked right at him, as though she were returned to herself – and spoke:

“Oh! The singing’s lovely,” she sighed “but I’m not ready yet.”

Then she went back to sleep, and died later – on her birthday – with a look of happy surprise on her face.

I don’t remember crying at her funeral, though many did.

Once she was gone the cohesion, which had once existed to draw the extended family together, dissolved. Her children scattered – not widely, but into patterns of sparse communication. Her grandchildren grew up without her and began to forge their own lives; slipping into the same, exiguously connected arrangement which the family at large found so convenient.

My Grandad, always more tolerant than kindly, and stern enough to command no small measure of awe from little-girl-me, was left alone, missing his wife immensely – for she had been his world – and declaring that he would be happy to die as soon as it happened. Over the next decade after the initial flurries of support, he discovered himself less often attended and in possession of failing health.

A resurgence of interest was generated a few years ago, when a violent heart attack left him unconscious in intensive care for several weeks. The family came together then – made capable by crisis and ready to pitch back in, re-establishing their roles as they wondered if they’d need to conduct another funeral. But he survived; his bull-strength undermined (yet still apparent) as he returned home and bore a second waning of support.

He made it to my wedding (there had been a question mark) and gradually his persistence became something of a dark joke, for he was no less cantankerous to, or easily borne by those of his children who reached out to him. My Dad would wonder if he’d have to take him on holiday again, grumbling about how difficult he found it. I inherited a caution of spending time with the old man, though I lived closest to him – shamefully dissuaded by the tales of challenge which proliferated from others.

Yet it nagged, this shame, and it reared its head each time I passed by his house without stopping in, scratching at my heart and reminding me that for all his ire, this elderly gentleman was my family, my elder, and in some way, my obligation and privilege to visit.

So I took Niece and Neff to see him, and discovered (to my astonishment) that illness and loneliness had mellowed him. He was sweet to them, and I saw kindliness I’d never noticed before and a twinkle in his eye as he laughed at their antics. I was surprised to find I liked him, and returned another time with my husband, just to say hello. We chatted for ages, and I learned much about his life and the history of my family; was fascinated by his recollections and enjoyed spending time with him.

I was astonished to discover that he’d made friends with the Indian family who’d moved in next door, and was full of tales about how he’d been an honoured guest at their daughter’s wedding, enjoying the prestige (bordering reverence) they afforded him, and the way they were always pleased to see him; basking in a status from neighbours he should have been afforded by us – his kin.

Illness has weakened him further, and he is fettered by it, spending sixteen hours a day tied to a tank of oxygen to help him through. He answers the door very slowly, but now always with a smile, and I am increasingly aware of a desire to break the pattern of infrequent contact by developing a habit of visiting him.

Last time I visited, it was fleeting, accompanied by yellow tulips to brighten his day and bring springtime into the still house. I was on my way for a haircut, and I assured him I’d pop back to show him my new ‘do’. When I returned later, he smiled – no; he beamed – and told me I looked lovely.

Since then, he had a fall and brought us all together again because the fall turned out to be a mini-stroke, which required hospitalisation and monitoring. I visited him several times in hospital and brought him (slightly) illicit beer, and we had a laugh, and he took an accidental selfie on my phone (I was showing him the camera) and we enjoyed one anothers company. I was only allowed to bring one can of beer at a time, but he appreciated the gesture – I’d bought a 4-pack of his favourite (Guinness) to cheer him up, and I said I’d bring the others to him when he got home.

I still have those two cans of beer on my counter-top, accusing me that he’s been home a long time now, and I’ve never been back to visit and take them to him.

Accusing Guinness Cans

I realise increasingly that I have the opportunity to assuage regrets before they happen – I have the chance to be a better granddaughter and establish a consistent relationship with him before it’s too late. And if I take that chance, when that day finally comes – the family united once more by geography as we mark his reunion with his wife – the tears I cry will not be of bitter contrition and failure, but of loss; of heartache. Of love.

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82 thoughts on “A Better Granddaughter

  1. My mom told me tonight that my grandfather said he no longer find meaning in life without my grandmother (she passed away 8 months ago) and if he would die, thanks God. He has always been an active man. But now he finds himself useless because he basicly lived for his wife. I leave nextdoor him but I talked with him only a few minutes a week. It makes me very sad to see that he feels that way and I now I’m going to talk more with him and will try to do my homework in his house. I searched on google how to be a great granddaughter and I found your post. I cry but I also felt relief, so thank you. Being a 17 year old adolescent and having a 78 grandfather who is my neighbour, what else can I do so that he doesnt feel that lonely?? 😦 It makes me sad to think of this situatuon and I wonder why would my grandma have said about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maria, it makes me think that your grandma would have been very pleased at your actions and your compassionate heart. If he lived for her, she must have loved him very much because he held her worthy of so much of his efforts, energy, and affection. The fact that you are doing everything you can to keep in touch with him and support him, and encourage him by your presence is wonderful. Don’t underestimate it. His grief may never go (and with that much love, how could it?) but you’re almost certainly making things so, SO much better for him than if you weren’t there.

      Bravo, for being a good granddaughter, and I’m glad this helped you 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Ten Things of Thankful #74 | Considerings

  3. My favorite grandparent was the one that I lost the youngest, and the one most like me (my father’s father). I have fond memories of my grandma (my mother’s mom) but more I think because of the family gatherings. I do remember one conversation that I had with her, as an adult, when I learned about her life as a girl. That’s when she became real to me as a person. But I never had a great relationship with any of them. Go visit. You’ll so regret it if you don’t. I promise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • YES! I know exactly what you mean about them becoming real to you as a person. That’s precisely it. That happened with both my Grandads, but not with either of my grandmothers. Wow. That’s pretty deep. I’M GOING! Saturday I’m gonna try 🙂 Promise.

      We haven’t had a family gathering in ages. Well, there was one over summer, but I missed out and played with Niece and Neff, because my brain was in a silly place and I didn’t join in. Nerts to wasted opportunities. *sigh*

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  4. Lovely post, Lizzi! It reminds me, of course, of my own gradparents. I lost my grandfather when in college and my grandmother is in a state of mild dementia; it feels like she’s someone else and not the strong woman I knew her to be! Distance makes it impossible to visit her often and she doesn’t do well speaking on the phone!
    Still, I feel I should make more effort!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw I’m sorry to hear that, Roshni, and no – the distance you have between you makes it very hard. Is there anyone who could help her to Skype with you instead, if she doesn’t manage the phone very well? I’m sure she’d love to see your sons, too…

      Dementia takes people from us before we’re ready to let them go. It’s awful 😦

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      • It’s selfish of me, but I feel like I avoid these talks now mainly because I don’t want to see her in her present condition; as if that’s not what my last memories of her should be!

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        • Ah. Well, that makes perfect sense. I can’t judge you for that. But I hope you won’t regret not just doing it anyway. I suppose it depends how far gone she is, if there’s even any point 😦

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    • Oh no! I’m sorry to hear that, NinYa! Yes, go visit her and bring her the comfort of knowing that you’ve taken the time to see her. And I’ll go and visit my Grandad and call my dad, and we’ll talk again soon, knowing that we’re better people than we are today 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Well, after the posts I’ve written about my aunt lately, I’m pretty sure you know what I’m going to say. I’m going to say it anyway. Get thee to your grandpa’s side! And call your dad.

    I’m so good at doling out unsolicited advice. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. one more visit, (as suggest by many of the Commenters above), would be good, but the ‘actual’ good, you have already accomplished.* Your world is enhanced by your acts. (no mean feat, as you mention the inertia of history made inaction a more ‘reasonable’ choice), your grandfather’s world is now enhanced by your actions.
    (for our people, it’s often difficult to understand, that ‘good’ is not a cumulative process… it is the quality of our acts as they occur. the good act (of establishing your relationship) is in no way dependent or conditional on further acts.)

    well done

    *no, not ‘accomplished’ as in a task done before others to be afforded praise, probably should have used the would achieved…

    Liked by 1 person

    • True…and now I want to embetter it again. So it’s not cumulative, viewing as stand-alone still means that it’s cumulatively better to have more stand-alone instances…right?

      I’ve confused myself.

      Thank you 😀

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      • saying ‘it’s not cumulative’ was a way to remind us (clarks) that (parts, if not all) of life are not process in the sense that you can only feel good when you have done (fill in the blank which would represent the equivalent of, “well, sure I did but that was nothing…it would be really good if I…”)
        you have made his reality/timeline a better place for what you have done…

        Liked by 1 person

    • True, I guess. But I think I need to work harder at having more than just good intentions, and actually make it HAPPEN. So there’s that…

      But thanks for the encouragement, and I’m glad you liked the post 🙂

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  7. This is lovely! I lost my grandparents when I was young, so I never got to have any adult-type conversations with them. Luckily, Mormons are big into recording their histories, so I can read stories about my grandparents lives. I find it difficult to interact with the aged – I’m not sure why – I guess I find them intimidating or feel that I don’t have the skills to relate or keep a conversation flowing. It’s something I need to work on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ohmigosh, I SO get you there – I used to feel exactly the same way. Then I took a job which involves working with (predominantly) elderly people, and honestly – they’re all kinds and everything in between. Some will be easy to talk to; others not so much. But try – because when they tell you their stories, it’s wonderful.

      I’m glad you have written histories – that must be nice to read…I kind of prefer the verbal version, I guess. Somewhere we have a folder documenting family histories on my Mum’s side…I don’t know where it is (to my shame).

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    • Thank you. I’m sorry to hear you lost your last grandparent but I’m glad to hear (what sounds like) that you had positive relationships with them and good memories. As I’ve said elsewhere – we hurt much because we love much, and that’s how it’s meant to be and it matters.

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  8. That’s so nice of you to visit him again, what a sweetheart! I’ll bet he’s full of great stories, if you can get them out. Like Clark, I never had the pleasure of a grandfather and I think it’s why I’m a little obsessed with older gents. They have the most funny stories and corny jokes, I can never seem to get enough. Yes, there are some that are cantankerous and unhappy with the way things have turned out, but hopefully with someone sweet like you asking questions, they can remember the good times and share their vast knowledge with the youngins. I hope you get there again soon! I once bought a book I wanted to fill out with my Grandmother, I wish I could remember the name, but it’s full of great questions about their time, what did they do for fun? How much did so and so cost? It’s great stuff! I was amazed that my Grandmother told me when she worked in her family’s grocery store they sold ice cream cones for TWO CENTS! 2 pennies! hahahaha
    She also gave people BEER and drinks in the family bar at one point, when she was still a young girl. You have to be 18 years old in the states now to serve anyone any kind of alcohol, so I found that fascinating.
    Enjoy your grandfather and the memories he has, and the ones you’ll forge together with Niece and Neff!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll do my best 🙂 I remember you having a bunch of old-man-crushes (that’s you, right?) and now a little more background makes (more) sense of that 😉

      I love working with older people for that reason – they have amazing stories and lived such vastly different lives than we do now – it’s incredible really. TWO CENTS for ice-cream! That sounds awesome. That said, with inflation it probably still translates.

      I’ll go back. Perhaps I’ll ask questions – people like telling stories, don’t they 🙂

      And, uh – don’t you have to be 21 in the states to drink? How come you can serve it three years ahead of being able to buy it and drink it? That’s nuts!

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  9. Grandparents are sometimes more special than our own parents. They can be the cores of our hearts, the foundations upon which we stand. They were for me. When my grandparents had passed, it was as if my safety nets burned below me. My last remaining grandma, I had kept a distance from her. I did this to selfishly protect myself from the hurt when she would eventually passed. I regret every single minute of it. I was there the night she died. What do you say to a woman who was more of a mother to you than your own mom?
    “You’re the coolest lady I’ve ever known. I love the shit out of you.” … because that’s how our humour rolls.
    I wish I had that time. That hurt would have been worth those moments I had lost.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ohhh distance is never good. We hurt much because we love much, and that’s how it’s meant to be, even though it’s agony and so very bittersweet. I’m lucky to have had such a good relationship with my maternal grandfather, but I never had that level of closeness with any of them. My mum is still my #1, bless her boots and thank God for her!

      I’m sorry you missed out. Hugely sorry. Hindsight sucks sometimes.

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  10. I never knew either of my grandfathers. One passed away years before I was born and the other just two months after I was born. I think you’re lucky to have the chance to get to know yours.

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    • Yes…I hoped that it would be one which was okay to share, and wouldn’t affect you TOO much. Thanks so much for sharing it. I think you know that Alzheimer’s awareness is important to me, too 🙂

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  11. We lost my wife’s father to dementia a couple years ago. This time of year marks an anniversary related to that though. It was three years ago that we lost my wife’s mother. She died of a heart attack. Taking care of her husband as he lost his mind proved too much for her. The last night we knew her, she was at our house passing out halloween candy. She died the next day.

    My wife’s father never knew or maybe he could never acknowledge that he knew and understood his wife was gone. Dementia had taken too much of his mind by that point. He lived roughly a year or so longer before he finally lost that fight.

    Talk about guilt, he died getting into our car. Much like her mother had died after she passed out candy at our house. (are we really this toxic?)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh dear! Those are some really challenging circumstances to accept loss under. But no – it’s not anything to do with your toxicity – just sucky circumstances. Really sucky ones.

      On the ‘silver linings’ side, at least they both will have died with one of their most recent memories being that they were amongst people who loved them – your family. So there’s that.

      I can understand your wife’s father not accepting his wife’s death – whether because of the dementia or not. What a lonely year he must have lived. It’s such a cruel death all round.

      I’m sorry that this time of year is so hard for you – that really is a lot of loss to happen all around the same time, and a lot of grief and upset to manage at once. I hope that it’s a thing which you and your wife face together and support each other through, and ultimately one which strengthens the love between the two of you.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. So beautiful…and hits close to home. My grandmother suffers from dementia and is not the woman I grew up with anymore. I don’t go to visit her nearly enough, and if I do she might not even know me. It is such a hard thing to keep that relationship going when it is so different from the one you have always had with that person. I tell myself every week that I will see her, and most weeks go by without that happening. Your post has made me realize I need to be better about making that time. Because the time I have left with her is not long, even if I end up being the only one who realizes we are having it.

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    • Bless your boots – I feel that way about my Nana…but to my shame, I didn’t ever have that much of a warm relationship with her, and I *really* don’t think she’d know me…but yes, I should make that effort while I have the chance, even if I’m the only one who knows it’s important.

      Alzheimer’s is a sickening condition – it takes people away before they die, and it’s awful, awful, awful. Like living death. It’s one of the cruellest conditions for the living to manage, I think.

      I hope you go, and I hope that it’s alright. Good for you for thinking about it though – that’s a start.

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      • I was that way with my dad and now, I’d give anything to hear his voice again. I’ve been remiss where my step-mom is concerned. I have a great relationship with her, but this last year…well, every memory I have of my dad is tied with her so it’s been hard to deal with. But I am definitely calling her tonight since it was too late last nigt and she was in bed already. Call your dad! 🙂

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        • Yeah yeah. I will.

          I hope you have a good phonecall now you have the timings sorted out 😀 Glad you’ve got such a good relationship with her to be able to fall back on and enjoy, even if she reminds you a lot of your dad.

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  13. I just lost an uncle, very dear to me. I treasure every moment and memory we had together. My mom died several years ago, he was her brother. There was a strong connection there and I hope to maintain a connection with the last remaining brother who lives a couple of hours away and is dealing with a spouse (my aunt) who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. So much sadness when people are sick or leave us, but so much opportunity for love and caring memories. Your post hit lots of emotional notes with me.

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    • It’s so hard to lose someone special, and I’m sorry for the loss of your uncle, Val. I’m glad you have so many lovely memories to treasure – that’s something to really cherish. Good for you for your determination to maintain that connection with your other uncle. That puts me a little to shame when my Grandad lives ten minutes down the road…I hope to take inspiration from your outlook.

      Yes there’s sadness…but I think that’s the painful side of how life’s meant to be – we hurt much because we love much, and the love is all worth it.

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    • I was lucky that I got to see my grandparents so often throughout my life. I think my family (for all its faults) did manage to stay nicely in contact on the whole, as I was growing up, and my grandparents were a big part of my childhood. But I’ve let that slip as I’ve grown, which isn’t the best of me.

      Aaaand sometimes old people are horrid – well, just PEOPLE can be, can’t they – but I’m glad for the warmth you had for your maternal grandmother 🙂

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  14. I am so cheered and pleased by your relationship with your grandfather. All mine are gone, too. Some when I was young and some when I was grown up. I never did fully understand hwo they oved me and wanted to see me until they were gone. Mainly because I hadn’t had kids of my own. It’s so good that you’re understanding now, during his life. Go bring him that beer!

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    • I know…I need to get going and get on with it. To stop making excuses. I hope that this post will help me to be a bit more accountable on that front. I’m a bit of a sucky granddaughter at the moment! *hugs* Thanks

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sorry to hear that – I hope you had some good times with them before they died. I was fortunate to have a good relationship with my other Granddad, who sadly died in 2007. My Nana is in a home at the moment. She also has Alzheimer’s and I don’t think she would know me any more.

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