Grandma Pat (G. Pat) was born in 1920. She was born in England and came to the United States with her parents and her stuffed animal bear, Teddy. She can tell you everything about her trip over on the ship and her friends she played sports with growing up in Minnesota, but what she ate for dinner just a few hours earlier, you’ll need to remind her. Memory loss is common for someone who will be 95 in just a couple weeks. It can be frustrating and scary for us but it’s worse for her. I am lucky to have two grandparents in their 90s and even luckier that I get to spend time with them and actually know them well.
Don’t Stop Moving
While I was grateful to be able to spend in afternoon on the couch and occasionally take the dog out or for a walk, G. Pat could not sit still. She said she wasn’t used to sitting so much, that she’s usually up doing little projects around the house. For the last few years she’s volunteered at resale shop, helping customers, organizing donations and keeping the store clean. If you’re ever needing the motivation to get up and do something, think of G.Pat and don’t ever stop doing things.
Keep The Political Conversation Going
I spent most of the afternoon talking with G. Pat and playing with the dog, while I took care of my laundry. G. Pat told me about the book she was currently reading – John Adams. Coming to the U.S. my great-grandparents knew of politics in England, but politics in America was not a common conversation in G. Pat’s childhood home. It’s hard to imagine since today there are shows and books and magazines dedicated to political discussion and social media platforms available for public dialog. G. Pat did not have as many resources to learn about U.S. politics.
Her book choice this time, she still reads a ton, was so she could get a better understanding of American political history outside of her formal education. We went on to discuss our disgust for Donald Trump and our fear of many of the other candidates this election. “That face, that smile…it’s just yucky” G. Pat said of Trump’s face on the cover of a magazine on the coffee table. She thanked me for sharing my views and talking with her about these issues- she understands that me, my siblings and my peers are the future of the country. She was pleased to hear that political discussion was not only so common among young people but that we are actively involved in discussion, rallies and generally voicing our opinions.
A Coke A Day Keeps the Doctor Away
About this time we both needed to eat. Without wanting to deal with crowds, loud restaurants or actually cooking a meal, we agreed on carry out from a local bistro. Two Chicken Clubs and a Pear Salad. I helped my grandma up the stairs to the bar where we ordered for carry out, she looked right at home ordering from the bartender. I know that in her day, her and her friends used to have big picnics with lots of food and beer- maybe alcohol tolerance is genetic ;-)
Back at home, we set the table and divided up our orders when I asked her what she’d like to drink. “I’ll take a Coke. I know I shouldn’t be drinking this stuff, but I do enjoy a Coke about once a day,” She said seating herself at the table. I smiled and just said there were worse vices to have. She happily agreed and added “they’re lucky I gave up the bourbon, I used to drink that stuff straight. My dad always said, Patricia if you’re going to drink it, drink it straight. So I did as my dad told me, never ordered a mixed drink.” She took a sip of her Coke and we enjoyed our dinner.
Getting Old is Scary
10 hours earlier Mom and Dad left to drive to get all her furniture packed up and into her new home. G. Pat was getting anxious and worried as snow started to fall for the first time this season outside. She repeated several times what she knew and what she didn’t know about how the day was scheduled. I was in the loop on a few more details getting text updates from Mom and Dad, but it was clear G. Pat just didn’t remember what Dad told her many many times over the last few weeks. I answered her each time she asked with as many details about the rest of the nights plans as I could trying to keep her in the loop and calm. As a granddaughter, hell even as a person, it was hard to listen to her repeat herself over and over without any memory of asking 30 minutes before.
As she’s often told me, it’s scary getting old. She’s lost many friends and now moving to a new, unfamiliar place well that would be scary for anyone. A high school graduate heading off to school, a college graduate taking a job in a new city, attending an event or function by yourself, moving into an apartment by yourself, all these experiences are intimidating. Add memory loss and a whole lifetime of habits and independence, yea that would be a scary time. She’s one strong woman though and I have a feeling she’s going to be just fine.
Keep Asking Questions
Even when her memory was as good as any of ours, G. Pat would still ask lots of questions. When we visited she’d ask my siblings and I what we liked for breakfast or what treats we enjoyed. Sure enough the next trip she’d have that cereal or snack at the house for us and she’d proudly display all our options the first morning of our trip. She still asks lots of questions, but now she does it to understand or gain more clarity of what’s going on. Some questions I now come to expect, where I’m living now and what phone number she should use to call me. She’s always said, “if I don’t ask, then I don’t know.” For Grandma and really for anyone, asking questions doesn’t make you stupid, not knowing to ask does. I will always happily answer her questions knowing she’s just trying to understand and spend more time with me.
She’s been at her new home for almost two days now. She’s still scared, but everyone is friendly and we unpacked most of her apartment so she’s almost settled. Just like any intimidating situation, you can’t face it being scared, eventually you have to overcome your fear and keep on living. At 94 going on 95, she’s starting a new chapter of her life – I hope I have her longevity and and strength as I take on my own challenges.