What a Great Grandma!

This is my Grandma, aged 95, holding my daughter aged about 10 months. Despite her age, she is fit and healthy, cycles 2 miles every week to get her shopping (we all offered help on an almost daily basis so she didn’t have to do this, but she absolutely insisted, and actually enjoyed it)!

This is my Grandma 18 months later. She lived in a very old house with a winding staircase, and unfortunately suffered all her life with unexplained fainting. About 6 months before this photo was taken, the two issues came face to face, which resulted in her losing consciousness after fainting on the stairs. This led professionals to decide that aged 97, she was no longer capable of looking after herself, and she was forced to move into a residential home straight from the hospital.

Although she’s smiling in this picture, having to leave the home she’d lived in all her life, not even being allowed to go home to sort out her own things, destroyed her. I like to think that if I ever have to live in a residential home, it’ll be the one my Grandma is in, it’s fab, chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, coffee bar, sherry and cinema evenings, and not the faintest odour of wee anywhere, but unfortunately, it’s not her home, with her things, or her independence.

My fondest childhood memories without doubt are the ones where I stayed at my Grandma’s house. I saw her a lot, and loved the time I stayed there because she was the grandparent who always let me have the extra treats, stay up until past my bedtime, said “I’ll let you do this, but don’t tell your mother,” (Yes as a parent now, I can understand why this grated, when I inevitably did tell my parents!) but I loved every minute I spent with my Grandma, from the treats, to the fact she actually wanted to sit down and play games with me, to the brook she had at the bottom of her garden which we used to paddle in for hours at a time. I’m proud of my Grandma, but the problem is I’m desperate for my own children to see how brilliant she is.

My Grandma will be 99 in a couple of months, and to me she’s still amazing, but I’m writing this post, because this morning I went to see her in the home. It was quite emotional for me, because it was the first time she couldn’t remember my name, She recognised me instantly, and the children too, and her eyes lit up in a way the staff said they hadn’t seen for a very long time, she just didn’t know what we were called, or possibly, even that we were family. She also can’t really speak properly any more, or hear what you’re saying unless you use an actual foghorn.

I haven’t been to see my Grandma since November, and I feel terrible about this because she is only 45 minutes away, I always seem to blame the fact that it’s difficult with the children, but is this really a valid reason? Getting out of bed at silly o’clock is difficult with the children. Bathing my son because he’s decided to eat half of his own poo, and smear the rest of it over his face and put it in his ears is difficult. Leaving them at nursery is difficult, but I don’t shy away from these things, I wouldn’t even think about it.

I just find myself faced with a dilemma. I have a very small family. I’m an only child, my parents just as well be as they don’t have anything to do with their siblings, so it really is just my Grandma in addition to my parents on my side, but it doesn’t matter how hard I try, my children are never going to know my Grandma in the way I do, or should that be ‘did?’

Their experience this morning went something like this: Before we got there, my daughter was really excited about drawing Great Grandma a picture. She spent about 15 minutes on it, before carefully writing her name on the back. It was a picture of me with blue hair and pink eyes, but hey, it was my daughter’s so clearly I had a proud Mummy moment telling her how fantastic it was!

When we arrived, she couldn’t wait to see Great Grandma’s reaction to her brand new Hello Kitty hairband. Clearly this was met with disappointment as my Grandma hasn’t been into the outside world since 2008! Then, as we were walking down the corridor to get to her room, a lady came walking along, embraced my daughter and son and said how beautiful she was, and how much seeing them had brightened up her morning. She also thanked my daughter for drawing her such a beautiful picture. The trouble was, this was a lady with dementia, who used to work in a nursery years ago. She got escorted off by the staff, but kept on managing to escape them to come back to us. I had managed to subtly wrestle the picture back so it could be given to the correct resident!

Eventually, we tracked down my Grandma, my daughter gave her the picture, my Grandma smiled in gratitude, but as she did so, her dentures fell out! While I was trying to explain why this had been able to happen and discuss whether the tooth fairy was going to run out of coins as a result of the mishap, I hadn’t noticed my son investigating the effectiveness of another lady’s zimmer frame as he was hurtling towards yet another lady’s bedroom, so it’s fair to say that we were most definitely breaching the peace! I’d taken a few toys to keep the children occupied, but it’s tough that my Grandma, despite being completely mentally alert, has poor hearing and speech, so we can’t really communicate that well. For the children this is even worse as they are too young to understand this.

This morning, I could have taken the children to a soft play centre with my friend, we could have stayed at home and done baking or painting or play doh, we could have gone to the park, and given the choice, I’m confident they would have chosen any of the above over going to see Great Grandma. I’ve considered going without the children, but I know this would disappoint no end. So why did I and will I feel I should continue to go? Is it because I know that it will have made my Grandma’s day, even if she won’t remember it tomorrow? Is it because I feel it’s important to try and enable my children to have distant memories of their Great Grandma? Is it because I want to go? Or is it a purely selfish issue of conscience for me? Is it right that I take the children despite the fact that they get bored, don’t want to be there and/or cause complete mayhem?

I’m not sure what the answer is, I’m definitely not the only person in the world who has an elderly relative. I asked my daughter as we left, what her favourite part of going the Great Grandma’s house was, her reply was “I liked the chocolate biscuit, and when her teeth fell out!” So hopefully she’ll at least remember something for a while, even if it is the sudden, public loss of her artificial molars!

Either way, and whether I’m doing the right thing or not, she is their Great Grandma, and my Grandma and she’ll always be great to me!


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Grumpyish Mum
    Mar 17, 2011 @ 17:59:47

    I really feel for you on this one, but weighing up the pros and cons I definitely think you’re doing the right thing in taking them with you. The think is, you might find it difficult and she might not remember tomorrow, bit the time you spent there will probably have given her a huge lift today and I can’t see any drawback to that.

    The other thing is that she won’t always be here, and when she’s gone you will know in your heart that you did what you could in visiting rather than staying away and being left with any regrets.



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