This post is both sides of my life smashing together. Last night, I went out to dinner with my grandparents. Since I have moved away, it has been a little over two years since I have seen them. Two years ago, I noticed a significant change in my grandmother’s memory, but she knew who I was. Last night, she no longer remembered me.
I know this for sure, because when my father went to get her in the front of the restaurant (My grandfather had dropped her off up front and went to park the car), while she probably recognized him, she talked to me like anyone would to someone they didn’t know coming up to them. And it broke my heart. It wasn’t that I didn’t expect it, it is just when reality slams you in the face, it does hurt even being a clinician. As a clinician, I watch the heartbreak of families as their loved ones drift into a world where they might or might not be remembered. Where something as simple as ordering can no longer be taken for granted. I noticed that my grandfather took care of that for her, ordering both her meal and a drink. And through dinner, I noticed flashes of the grandmother I remember. The one from 10 years ago, when I stopped coming home nearly as regularly.
She seemed to enjoy seeing my children, but she enjoyed them as you would children in a park, distant, without any other connection to them. As for me, I know she was coached somewhat, and related me to my father, when she realized that connection she became kinder, but I could tell despite mechanisms she had in place, I was not in her current memory. Probably because I am not the same as the grand daughter in her memory of 20 years ago.
Two years ago, I am fairly certain she knew who I was. Didn’t have a clue regarding my youngest. But did seem to remember I had one child, and was pleasant and talkative. Last night, she was fairly quiet. Didn’t say much. I can only imagine what kind of world she is living in.
She was well educated. She went to both college and graduate school I only found out about the graduate school because when I was waiting for acceptance to medical school, I had started applying to graduate schools and chemistry. And when I mentioned that I was applying to the University of Michigan, she said “That’s where you grandfather and I met in graduate school.” She went back to school throughout my junior high and high school years, learning Japanese, and I don’t really know what else, but education was important. Which only makes this sadder and more terrifying.
I don’t know what my grandfather goes through on a daily basis. He seems actually a little more to me, than he has in recent years. He also is quieter. Whether it is due to watching his wife of 61 years slowly lose all of their memories or if it is that his children have grown up and moved away as their grandchildren have, I don’t know. But it is a sad story. It was sad when I talked to my patients and their families. IT is sadder now that I see my once vibrant, happy wonderful grandmother become only a shadow of what she used to be.