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My Late Grandmother Had Mild Dementia, But Her Condition Taught Me How Powerful Love Can Be

Remembering conversations with my late grandmother with dementia

“Lola! Kilala niyo ako?” (Grandma! Do you know who I am?)

“Hindi.” (No.)

“Ah. ‘Di niyo ko kilala?” (Ah. You don’t know who I am?)

“Hindi ngani.” (I said, no.)

“Sino po ako?” (Who am I?)

“Ay awan.” (I don’t know.)

These were her words on days when she couldn’t remember and didn’t feel like talking.

“Lola! Kilala niyo po ako?” (Grandma! Do you know who I am?)

She raises her eyebrows and nods once.

“Sino ako?” (Who am I?)

“Raya,” she mouths.

This time, this was her response on days when she could remember. Like clockwork, I smiled at the fact that she remembered and that she could recognize the people around her. Also, you’d know that it was  a really, really good day when she would start having a conversation with you.

But later on, she became quiet most of the time. It’d just be nods here and there and minimal responses that you had to coax out of her several times.

What she was like

My Deceased Grandmother Had Mild Dementia - Grandma and me
Grandma and I when I was younger 

If anyone were to ask me what my grandmother was like, I’d say that she was one of the most genuine people you’d come across in life. She was definitely not perfect. Nobody is. However, spending time with her would make you think that she almost was.

My Deceased Grandmother Had Mild Dementia - seven children
Grandma and Grandpa had seven children 

She lived a simple life. She married a good man and they were able to build a family together. She became a teacher. She took care of her seven children. She devoted herself to the church and was actively religious. Overall, I’d say she was content.

She was known by many and not just by family members. Everyone who knew her respected her, loved her, and cared for her.

I, specifically, think that she was incredible.

She and grandpa were used to rural life and they didn’t want to leave their house in Mindoro, while my family and I lived in Manila and my siblings and I ended up studying there. Ever since I could remember, especially when I was in elementary school, we’d always go home to the province and visit her and Grandpa during summer vacation when school ended every year, without fail.

I could already see it, as soon as they knew that we’d be arriving at any moment, the both of them would be outside waiting for us. Coming out of the vehicle, us kids would do our mano po (an act of respect to elders where you put your forehead against the back of their offered hand) and then they would bombard us with kisses on the cheek.

Grandpa’s kiss was quick and firm and I’d feel his prickly mustache against my cheek. Grandma’s, on the other hand, would last seconds before she pulled away and smelled my hair.

I’ll miss that.

Of course, being the stubborn kid that I was, used to urban life, I didn’t care enough about being there back then. I would just stay in the bedroom and watch TV and basically, I counted the days until we could go back to Manila.

If I’m not in the room, I’d be hanging out with my cousins when they came by and when we played games, as kids, sometimes we’d pick on each other until one of us cried. There are nine of us today, but back then, there were seven of us, which was still probably too much for our grandparents to handle.

But she was able to put up with her rowdy grandkids, myself included, at times when our parents were away. Whatever we asked of her, she gave. Whatever we said, she tolerated. Whatever we did wrong and got berated for by our parents later on, she fixed it by saying “Hayae lang. Bata lang sila.” (Let it be. They’re just kids.)

My Deceased Grandmother Had Mild Dementia - Grandma liked plants and flowers
Some of the plants that Grandma grew before

However, out of boredom, I’d come down the stairs sometimes and watch what Grandma was doing while Grandpa was away – when she was still able to walk. She liked plants and flowers. The house back home didn’t have a backyard, but when you visited, the first thing you’d see would be her potted plants outside, bathing under the sun.

My Deceased Grandmother Had Mild Dementia - rocking chair
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She’d sit on a rocking chair and just watch her plants grow. Once in a while, she’d get up and water them before sitting back down. Other times, when she saw us watching her, she’d give my older sister and me spray bottles and ask us to help her water the plants.

Because I was young back then, I’d water the plants a little too much and Ate (older sister) would tell me off, but somehow, Grandma didn’t care. She did, however, gently took the spray bottle away from me and told me “tama na ‘yan.” (That’s enough.).

A silly little memory.

I didn’t realize how important those moments were until Grandpa died and until she died.

That’s another thing that I’ll miss about her. She puts others before herself. If you ask for her help, whatever it is, she’ll give it to you without hesitation.

That’s what she was like: selfless and nurturing and kind.

Grandma’s mild dementia

My Deceased Grandmother Had Mild Dementia - having mild dementia
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Upon being diagnosed with mild dementia around 2016, things with my grandmother began shifting. One of her more prominent symptoms from the beginning until the end was not being able to recall our names and mistaking some of us, grandkids, as her kids.

Another symptom of dementia, apparently, is repeatedly telling stories that hold a significant memory for the patient. In her case, earlier on, she usually would have a lot to tell, but what stuck to me the most was the story about her and me.

If memory serves me right, since 2012, every year, she and her carers would come to Manila for check-ups from doctors, so they’d stay at our place.

Whenever I came home from university or whenever I went inside the room she’s staying in, she would see me and smile at me. She would then tell a story over and over again to either one of her carers when she could still talk properly, and they’d patiently listen to her as if they were hearing the story for the first time.

My Deceased Grandmother Had Mild Dementia - took care of me when mom and ate had chickenpox
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The story goes that when I was still a baby, about a few months old, she and I had to be isolated for quite some time because my mom and my older sister had chickenpox. She would then say how she had to take care of me for a few days and that it was quite a challenging experience.

Whenever she’d tell that story, I’d laugh it off and feel slightly annoyed because of the repetition. Now, it’s one of the moments that I’ll remember and cherish forever.

A turn for the worst

My Deceased Grandmother Had Mild Dementia - ending up in a wheelchair
Grandma on her 85th birthday 

Before the pandemic, she was already incapacitated, ending up in a wheelchair. Then, unfortunately, due to other health issues, she became bedridden and got stuck in a hospital bed back home.

Time went on and thankfully, her condition remained stable, but because she was bedridden, she couldn’t come to Manila anymore. So, it took quite some time before I was able to go to Mindoro in December 2021 for my cousin’s wedding and spend Christmas and New Year’s there. My family and I left for Manila on 4th January and as I said my goodbyes to Grandma, I asked her for the last time if she knew who I was. She mistook me for my older sister.

I didn’t know that that would be the last time I’d ever see her.

Sadly, in February 2022, came the sudden death of my uncle, Grandma’s third child. His passing is a story for another day, but long story short, it was inevitable, but still came as a shock as it happened all so suddenly. No one can ever be prepared for someone to die in that way and somehow, I think that a lot of us will keep wondering how it happened.

telling Grandma the news
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However, that wasn’t the worst part. My mom and her siblings couldn’t tell their mother that her child had passed away. They tried, but knew that she wouldn’t be able to understand anymore and that even if they mentioned their sibling’s name, she still wouldn’t know fully what they were talking about.

I can’t possibly imagine how that must’ve felt for them.

Still remembering even when she couldn’t recognize us

still remembering
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When my mom came back to Manila as my uncle’s funeral ended in Mindoro, she told me something that I thought was almost miraculous. She told me that following my uncle’s passing, days into the funeral, my grandmother had somehow remembered him and that she had asked about his whereabouts.

You see, my uncle had gone to visit Grandma every day. He’d stop by any chance that he could get, even if it was just a little while.

hand in hand
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You could see so much just by looking into her eyes. She would stare at you so intensely, thinking hard so she could say the right answer and even as you reach your hand out to her, she would reach with her dominant hand and squeeze tightly, as if she were trying to remember where or when she had seen you before.

Somehow, you could also see that she knew you through her eyes. She would recognize you, but she couldn’t remember your name.

strong bond with husband
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Another thing that I could think of was how strong of a bond she had with my grandfather even after his death. He passed away back in 2010 so it’s been quite some time since, but for some reason, even with her dementia, she couldn’t ever forget her husband’s name. It amazed me how deep her love was for him to still remember his name all these years.

On good days, we would even joke with her and ask her to help us recall her husband’s name and as expected, she would always say the correct name and she would say it with confidence.

She was still fighting. Her love for her child, her husband, and the rest of us actually helped her remember. My opinion may not be accurate, but it’s what I choose to believe.

Realizations and lessons learned

Realizations and lessons learned

Sadly, most times, we forget to appreciate the presence of our loved ones and take them for granted. We go on every day as if they’re going to live forever when in fact, they’re the ones who are running out of time as they get older. The older they get, the simpler their goal becomes – and that goal is to spend as much time as possible with their loved ones too.

Unfortunately, as adults, we don’t have the luxury to have family gatherings any time we want to. You get caught up in the middle of your own life and before you know it, time passes you by and suddenly, they’re no longer there.

Looking back on all this, what with my grandmother’s death, you can’t promise to be present 100% of the time because it’s not realistic and you’ll only end up breaking that promise. Instead, you must make the most out of the moment when you do spend time with your loved ones.

No matter how normal a day it is, make the most of it, build lots of memories with them and treasure every second as it’ll make them feel loved and appreciated.

Because in the end, their memories are what you take with you so you can develop and grow even more as a person.

Being there as much as possible, then letting go

If there’s one thing you could take away from this, it’s that you try to love as much as your loved ones have loved you. It’s not every day that you get to see them so, give your all and love them unconditionally.

If you’ve ever lost a loved one, know that yes, it’ll be hard. You’ll be hurting for quite some time, but in the end, bit by bit, you’ll see yourself moving forward. Time will take the hurt away and you’ll be left with memories that’ll only make you stronger.

That’s what I tell myself. Know and believe that they’re watching over you. So, with every step you take, know that they’re always there even when you don’t see them.

I remember this line from the film The Shack. The line goes, “It does a body good to let the healing waters flow.” So, if I find myself crying, it’ll be as if I’m providing Grandma the water that she needs for her plants, wherever she may be.

Think of it this way – they’re in a much better place, a place without suffering and pain. Just peace.

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