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My grandmother has dementia. She’s had it for years now, and it keeps getting worse, as dementia always does. There is no cure, no hope for her to get better or go into remission.

She sometimes forgets my mother’s name and my aunt’s names. She sometimes forgets how old she is, when her birthday is. She frequently forgets how old her husband was when he passed away, or that she was only married one time.

But she remembers my son.

My son, Atticus, is just a few weeks shy of a year old. He’s not her only great-grandchild, but he is the newest. We visit her a couple times a week at her room in the nursing home, and she is somewhat somber until she sees Atticus. When he enters the room, her whole face lights up. Since he is always with me when I visit her, I am not sure what her temperament is like whenever we aren’t there. But I do know she comes to life when we are there.

I remember one episode in particular, before we could get her into the nursing home. She passed out at church, and had to be taken to the emergency room. Atticus and I met her, my mother, and my aunts there.

Until we arrived, she had been laying incoherently in her bed. She looked tired, her face drawn and pale. As soon as she saw my son, her presence changed dramatically. She sat up. She wanted to hold him and talk to him. She smiled. She spoke coherently.

That particular episode, doctors found, was due to dehydration. She was forgetting to eat and drink. One of my aunts joked that we would have to come by if we needed grandma to do something—eat, drink, take her medicine—because she might do it for Atticus.

This reminds me of my childhood dogs. Growing up, I had a dog named Lacy, a big Golden Retriever-yellow Labrador mix. Nearing the end of her life, we adopted a puppy that we named Copper—a beagle rat terrier mix.

Lacy had been showing signs of age, but when we introduced that puppy to her, she was a new dog. He brought vigor to her in her old age, and she played. She was so much livelier.

My grandma and son are no different. I’m pretty sure if we needed her to do something, if we told her Atticus would be there or would be watching, she would do it without complaint. So, we go there as often as we can.

There isn’t much to ease the pain of losing her memories. Most of the time, she just sees rough outlines of big pictures. All we really can do is be there for her. And most times, that’s enough.

Sarah Pearce

Sarah Elizabeth Pearce is a journalist in west central Illinois. She's a mother, wife, daughter, and sister. She's working to bring an arts council to life in her community in her spare time (that is, the time she's not chasing around an energetic son and playful dog). Whenever she isn't writing - she is cooking, cleaning, or crocheting.

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