I took this picture because I wanted to remember.
I wanted to remember the way my grandma’s hand felt under mine, her soft skin wrinkled from years of loving and serving others. I wanted to remember the mingling of our voices as we sang Christmas carols. I wanted to remember her hand on the left page and mine on the right, as we held the hymnal together. I want to remember how she sang the first verse from memory but was too stubborn to look down for the words of the second. I want to remember the joke she made to disguise her confusion about a service she had sat through countless times. I want to remember her once strong body leaning on my arm as we walked out of the church.
I want to remember because I know she won’t.
Dementia is destroying my grandma’s mind but it can’t steal her heart.
She may not remember our names, but she remembers our smiles and our presence. She feels our love when it enters the room and when it leaves.
She can’t remember why she no longer sleeps in her own bed in her own home, but she remembers the comforts of that place. She remembers the smell of the woodstove and the sound of gravel crackling as a car pulled in the drive. She remembers the glow of the yard light, switched on to greet visitors or send them off into the dark, country night.
She no longer remembers the recipe for her famous kolaches or even how to make them, but she remembers the joy of feeding her family. She remembers how it felt to have her husband, seven children and spouses, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren gathered around her table. She remembers the pride in their compliments spoken at each meal.
She may not remember how to play the card game, but she remembers the laughter that filled the room as we played. She remembers the pleasure of sitting with her grandkids during a game of go fish or kings in the corner. She remembers the thrill of victory after beating the men in a serious game of pinochle or canasta.
She doesn’t remember how to take care of herself but she remembers feeling fiercely independent—reliant on no one else, free to come and go as she pleased.
She can’t remember why her husband of 60+ years leaves her each night, but she remembers the love and companionship of many years. She remembers working side-by-side in their home or the shop, in the garden, or on the farm.
My grandma doesn’t remember all the things, but she remembers all the feels.
And so it has become our job to remember for her and allow her to simply feel. We smile when she greets us though she’s unsure of our names. We listen when she tells the same story for the hundredth time. We nod and thank her for the offer to bake something up for the next time we visit.
We hug her when we leave. And we keep coming back. Because no matter how much she’s forgotten, she remembers how it feels to be loved.