Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I traveled back to Seneca, Pennsylvania with my parents to visit family. After a harrowing drive in the snow "over the river and through the woods", we arrived on Tuesday evening to my aunt's house where my aunt, uncle, cousins, and grandmother live. By Thanksgiving morning, there was 34 inches of snow nestled there in the foothills of the Allegheny mountains.
On Wednesday, I offered to sit and have breakfast with my grandma while my aunt went upstairs to get ready for the day. You see, grandma has Alzheimer's. My job was to make sure that she finished her breakfast and took her pills. As we sat there looking out at the snow, my grandma would drift off and say "I'm so lost". I would gently remind her that she was home and suggested that maybe she felt a little lost since she had just recently spent nearly three weeks in the hospital. She would nod and say that maybe I was right and then once again, she'd say "I'm so lost".
I kept prodding her to finish her Raisin Bran so that she could take her pills. We sat at the table together, looking out the bay window in the kitchen at the beautiful snow outside. She asked me when I had arrived and what day it was, and I told her that it was Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. I told her that I had come with my parents from Indiana to visit and spend the holiday with her. We repeated that conversation about a dozen times over a ten minute period. Occasionally grandma would remark that her memory was not as good as it used to be. And then she said it. She reached out and put her hand on mine and said "Sometimes I just close my eyes and say 'Bring Audine back'". I placed my right hand on top of hers and felt tears welling up in the corner of my eyes as I turned toward the window and thought "Me too." In that moment, I realized that my grandma has some awareness, albeit limited, that she is not the same as she used to be. Her memory continues to slip away. Grandma may feel lost. But people do not consist of memory alone. She cannot follow directions very well anymore. She cannot sit and play cards with us, as she always loved to do. But she is still my grandma. Her smile still warms my heart. Her hugs still embrace me with love. She still remembers my name. She could still recognize the beauty of a doe emerging from the woods, looking for a bite to eat on a cold, wintry morning. I can't "bring Audine back". But I can meet her where she is with open arms and loving acceptance, and help to keep her memory alive with her help, hand in hand.