(This is a 4-minute read for the average person.)
“I just don’t understand. Why are we going to see her if she’s not going to remember us?”
It was a fair question. I turned to my 5-year-old son and smiled sympathetically.
“She might remember us, Honey. And even if she doesn’t, we’re going to visit her to brighten her day.”
He scowled and crossed his arms over his seatbelt.
His older brother piped up, “It wouldn’t be so bad if nursing homes didn’t smell like old people.”
My husband glanced sternly in the rearview mirror at him. “Think about that, Son. Does it make any sense? Is it helpful?”
No response from the backseat, but both boys looked out their windows at the farms that dotted the countryside.
I peeked in her room and was surprised to find it empty.
A woman dressed in scrubs passed by and said, “Oh, we try to keep them out of their rooms during the daytime. You’ll likely find Margaret in the Day Room. She doesn’t like the TV, so she’ll probably be sitting in the chair by the sunny window.”
We found her there, just as predicted, snoozing in the warmth of the sun.
We hung back, not wanting to disturb her.
“Margaret, you have some visitors,” said the woman in scrubs, as she rubbed my grandmother’s shoulder gently.
Grandma opened her eyes and looked around, dazed.
“I do that, too,” I thought.
My husband nudged me.
I approached her slowly, suddenly feeling very self-conscious of my height compared to her tiny frame in the chair.
I bent down and whispered, “Hi Grandma… How are you doing today?”
Her hands quavered on her knees.
Those hands had stroked my cheek every night at bedtime after my father brought me to live a motherless life with her when I was very young.
Those hands had presented me with my first kitten.
Those hands had pushed me on the swing that Grandpa hung from the old oak tree in their yard.
Those hands gently touched my grandfather’s arm each Sunday to have him lower the hymnal so that I could see it as I stood between them.
“I guess I’m alright. Who are you?”
I pulled an old photograph out of my pocket.
It was taken in front of her home some forty years ago, and she and I were in the photo with my grandfather and my father.
“Do you remember this?”
She shook her head.
I pointed at each person and spoke slowly. “This is you. This is Ernie, your husband…”
“I have a husband? I don’t think so.”
“Yes. He was a wonderful man.”
“Well, he’s not here with me. Where is he?”
I opted to not tell her that he passed years ago.
“And this is me at four years old. Your son Richard was my dad. He brought us to live with you.”
She looked at me and looked at the photo.
“You have changed a lot.”
“Yes,” I murmured. “I have changed a lot.”
She studied the photograph again.
“Those are lilacs. I love lilacs.”
On cue, my oldest son stepped forward with an armful of lilacs from our yard.
She inhaled deeply. “Ahhhhhhh. There’s nothing like the scent of lilacs.”
My younger son approached hesitantly and held out a small brown cardboard box. He gently helped her open it. Inside was a single dinner roll, still warm from the bakery.
He said, “Do you like honey? I do.”
He opened the tiny packet of honey and put it on the halved dinner roll.
Like the lilacs that we hoped would bring back memories, the honey was an intentional gift.
Her husband had learned to be a beekeeper during war time when sugar was scarce. Her children helped their father process that honey and sold it from a farm stand in the front yard.
She tasted the roll, and then licked the honey off of it. The smile on her face told me everything I needed to know.
The boys got the nod from me that they had done their part. They wandered off to make friends with the resident dog and cat.
My husband approached slowly and knelt on one knee by the side of her chair.
Grandma eyed him and said, “If you’re going to propose, you’d better have a ring in your pocket, young man!”
I smothered a laugh.
My husband had always had a sweet affection for her. The first time that they met, he sat by her at a huge family gathering. He made her laugh more times that afternoon than I had ever seen her laugh in her life.
Back then, they chatted about the Boxelder bugs that had infested her hollyhock garden at the southwest corner of her house, and about people in church that sang too loud.
He admired the items that she brought out for him to look over — small treasures that once belonged to my late grandfather.
He spent time admiring Grandpa’s pocketknife and notebooks full of invention ideas.
He flipped slowly through Grandpa’s little black book which was filled with weather observations and random thoughts, like, “I walked to the creek today. The cardinals and red-winged blackbirds were very noisy. No crayfish or polliwogs yet. Too early.”
A few years later, my father brought Grandma to England where my husband and I were stationed.
My husband gleefully teased her as he drove on the wrong side of the road in our American car.
They laughed together over British terms that she found puzzling — like fish and chips, or a roundabout, a buggy, and a lorry.
On that same visit, he put our infant into her arms. When she briefly doubted herself — even though she had raised four children and countless grandchildren — he laughed and insisted. Our baby boy chortled and grinned and reached out to her.
On this day, though, so many years later, she seemed a little lost.
She put her hand on his arm and said, “I think I need to go for a walk.”
He grinned. “Can I come too?”
She laughed as he helped her to her feet from that chair in the sun.
“Where are we going?” he whispered.
We both knew that she was confined to this floor, where patients with Alzheimers and early dementia were housed.
She looked at him incredulously.
“Why, we’re going to the creek, of course. We’re going to look for the crayfish and polliwogs.”
He took her left arm and walked toward the right side of the hallway.
She scowled at him and shuffled to the left side of the hall where there was a railing to follow.
He understood and changed his position to be her guide on the right side.
They walked up and down the hall several times. She kept her place, turning to use the banister each time, and he switched back each time to guide her on the other side.
Eventually, she tired, and said, “I’m going to need a nap.”
We said our goodbyes as the woman in scrubs came to help her back to her room.
As we left, she called out, “And you STILL drive on the wrong side of the road!”