My Grandma has Dementia, but somehow that’s done nothing for my own memory. I watch her forget the most reasonable of things— how to organise words, apply meaning, and how to hold onto thoughts with even the feeblest of grips. For the last 10 years, trying to teach her how to remember anything has been a waste of time, and this family still has capacity to pour that time into the gutter like mop water. It can make you something like a bad person, to start a sentence with “I just told you,” or to end one with “remember??” and watch the presence leave her face; to watch her become a crumbling brick wall.
She lives here, I’m faced with her continually. I see what memory loss has prised from her, and yet it does nothing to convict me. I watch her struggle to remember the fundamentals of living, and evade the functionality of being here. Yet I’m quite wilful in pursuing an agenda— of forgetting the things that are intended to keep me alive. Only those things. My mind is very big, there’s plenty of room, but I can be stingy, and minimalistic in what I let in long enough to develop roots. While hers— my Grandma’s, is shrinking by the day. I imagine it’s become such a pigsty in there, full of things that can no longer stand upright, that nothing can comfortably stay. Her’s I imagine is cold and cobwebbed. Or maybe it’s too warm and ripe for festering. Mine can be too. Not everyday, but enough days. However, for the things that don’t need much to flourish, for the things that only need looking in on every so often, it’s fine. The things that are born dead and dry, or synthetic looking- bad things, cynical things, can often find everything they need in there.
My Grandma has Dementia, but she’s still human. She still lives here in a dying world. She still has trouble forgetting bad things. If she’s had a particularly bad morning, afternoon, evening— if she’s been rude, choppy, awful, and someone has lost their patience with her in the moment; if her bad behaviour hasn’t been met with a relentless ‘softly softly’ approach, she’ll nestle in the imprint the negative memory has left. She’ll sit in her room looking crestfallen. You’ll go in later on, hoping the Dementia’s done its job just this once, but it wouldn’t have. She’ll look indignant— sometimes for a full hour after it’s all been said and done. She won’t remember why. But tell her she’s loved, and her mind won’t let her hold it.
There are things I know— things I’ve been taught and shown, things I believe in that my mind isn’t always a suitable home for. Not everyday, not all of the time. But the things that belong here don’t always feel welcome. When they leave, sometimes I forget they ever came to visit, or had the full intention of staying with me. Sometimes I kick them out because they don’t suit the space, they feel wrong through the fault of being so right.
My Grandma has forgotten entirely the last quarter of her life. She can’t recall it. If you ask her about it, she might even ignore the fact that your mouth is moving at her. But it happened nonetheless. Every inch of it was—is very real, and it all fits somewhere in the kaleidoscope of her mind without the need for it to be seen. There are things that came to stay over the course of her life that have no intention of leaving her. I say things, but it’s really just one thing with many things within it. She’s torn out many of the pages now, but my Grandma collected many often pocket sized books full of promises. The pages often litter the bed and the floor on most days, and we find her with the pages in wooden hands. To the naked eye, the promises on the pages haven’t been kept to her. But if you know her like we do, you’ll see that they have. God, while her mind has become an intolerable place, has made a home in the cobwebs and the darkness.
In my mind, the lights can still be switched on, and even when I’m sure I’ve pushed him out, he’s still sitting there, holding out a palm of rubies and pearls and diamonds. He begs me to take hold of one— to hold it up to the light, and I don’t always. But his palm never grows stiff and dead cold from the wait. The jewels— the life-saving memories are mine, just as they are hers— my Grandma. They’re good for a lifetime of wilful ignorance or a confusing kind of pain. They pierce the gloom, and flutter the cobwebs.
(the picture is a photograph of my Grandma— I want to say from the 70s)