When I arrived at the precipice of adulthood, I made a wish. A simple, love filled wish.
I wished that my beloved grandparents would live to see me become a Mother.
This year, that wish came true. With a twist.
My childhood memories are dotted with happy times spent with my grandparents. Nan singing her bird like songs in the kitchen whilst making scones ‘with love’. Pop sitting in his corner, quietly observing the world and offering up the occasional ‘Dad joke’.
That was them, and they made me feel safe.
When I considered my wish—the wish for my grandparents to meet my first born— I imagined a joy filled pregnancy announcement with even greater joy to follow. And when the time came to announce that our little miracle had come on board, sharing the news with my grandparents was almost as lovely as I dreamed it would be.
Almost. Because, by then, the Dementia had hit.
Shortly after the pregnancy announcement, my lovely, gentle Nan began to fade. It happened slowly. Looking back, I can see that I was in denial. I’d tell her that she was fine. That everyone gets confused sometimes. Hell, at 30, I was sure that I was already experiencing moments of senility. But over time, her mind became so muddled that nothing she said made sense anymore. Dementia; that cruel, poisonous vine.
Throughout my pregnancy, Nan battled on. She knew that I was pregnant, and yet, she didn’t quite understand. One moment, we would be discussing my pregnancy symptoms and the next she would be asking me if I’d put the baby down for a sleep.
For me, the 9 months of my pregnancy was long. But for Nan, it was an eternity. She waited and waited for that baby. And then she waited some more. She’d ask when it would be here. ‘Not for another 3 months Nan’, I’d say. She thought I must have kept extending my due date.
My Aunty, who is, very conveniently, an aged care Nurse, suggested that we buy Nan a doll to act as her own baby. Apparently it’s common amongst dementia patients. At first, I thought it was weird. I mean, seriously. The woman has had 8 children, and you want to buy her a doll? Umm…okay. But then I saw her with the doll. How tenderly she cradled it. The way she stroked it gently. The looks she gave it. She loved that baby doll. It was one of her children.
My little boy was born on the 24th of February, 2014— three hours before my 31st birthday. He had a little turned up nose and a head of mousy brown hair. Mummy’s pride and Daddy’s joy. Every bit the miracle that I thought he’d be. My wish had come true. He’d come in time to meet both of his great grandparents.
But, by then, Nan had deteriorated. She didn’t recognise me anymore. She’d smile politely and seemed to know that I was a nice person who deserved to be treated nicely. But she didn’t know who I was. And as many times as I told her that my baby was a boy, she would continue to think that he was a girl. Once, she even called him by the name of her own first born child. A girl.
My Nan was the first person in this world to cradle me in her arms, before even my Mum. Now, she doesn’t even know my name. She doesn’t remember holding my Mums hand at my birth. And she sure doesn’t remember loving me to pieces from the moment I was born.
But there is one shining light here. One piece of hope and joy that I take away from all of this.
Nan—although she believes that he is a girl—adores my baby boy. And he adores her. He is the only thing that makes any sense to her in this muddled up world that she barely tolerates. His joy makes her smile. And I mean, really smile.
She communicates with me and I wonder what on earth she is talking about. But she communicates with my little boy and suddenly, I understand. Every goo and every gah. Every coochi coochi coo. In these moments, I see my beautiful Nan again. I see her spirit and forget all about this thing called Dementia. Motherhood is that strong. It cannot be forgotten. Even in the face of such a vial, hideous disease.
So, Dementia, you cruel and heartless beast. You listen to me, and you listen carefully.
You may have the ability to take a person’s mind, but you will never take their spirit.
That much I know. And that much I am grateful for.