The sweetest joy of my life has been getting to know my grandmother.
I never knew her well growing up. Grandma Evelyn lived in Greensboro, N.C., so I only saw her on occasional visits. There were few chances to hug her, sit with her or laugh with her. I learned from my limited contact with her that she was a woman who did not smile often, had the gnarled hands of someone who worked hard, had a commanding bearing and always kept her home pristine from the baseboards to the ceiling.
I learned around Thanksgiving that she was coming to live with us because dementia had left her unable to care for herself. The day my grandmother, now 87, moved to Baltimore, I was unsure how to feel. Though I knew her face, I had a lot to learn about this woman who had gone from being a six-hour drive away to living right above my basement bedroom. Her walk had become slower, her hair greyer, her back more curved.
But she was still my grandmother.
Dementia is a cruel thing. It robs sufferers of the details that make them who they are. That’s what it is doing to my grandmother.
Grandma Evelyn had always been a woman in control. I remember how nice her house was when we visited—the elephant sculptures and other memorabilia she had placed meticulously around the room. Her home was a time capsule of her family.
The thing I valued most, though, were the details of my life she was able to fill in. Her stories about her children’s childhoods–including my dad, Reginald–enthralled me when I would visit.
“Crews and them boys,” she’d say, referring to her husband, Bynum, my grandfather; my dad and three uncles. She was a very traditional Black woman who did everything she could to take care of her family. I remember that at meal time, she never sat to eat until her family had been fed. It was always clear that her home and her sons were what made her the happiest.
It was also great seeing her do the things that grandmas often do. Even into her 80s, she kept up with her gardening. Grandma Evelyn loved to stay busy.
She survived her children growing to adulthood and one by one leaving home. She also survived the loss in 2008 of Granddad, her beloved, who died at age 86. They were married more than 60 years.
Now, she’s dealing with her biggest challenge yet.
These days, instead of waking up to make breakfast, then spend the day working about the house and yard, Grandma Evelyn is limited to minor tasks. She will sweep the floor, put away dishes, fold laundry. There are signs posted around the house reminding her where the bathroom and telephone are and to beware of dangers like the stove. She watches gospel stations and listens to songs playing on the programs.
A favorite activity is looking at the photo albums my dad brought from North Carolina for her. She stares at a favorite picture of Granddad Bynum. She may tell a story about their life together. She often talks about two friends from her church back home. Amazingly, she does several crossword puzzles each week.
Now that I see her every day, she means so much more to me. It’s uplifting to see her eyes light up when she says “Hello!” and when she shouts out, “Grandma’s Andi Andi” when I walk into the room.
We spend time together almost every day. I do her hair. I prepare her food if my dad is not at home. I help her fold clothes. I talk to her. She talks to me. It still gives me great joy to hear her speak, even though these days she may repeat her words several times.
I know that she may not remember everything we share, but that’s okay because I will always be able to look back and recall those memories.
I feel blessed to finally have them