I spent most of this weekend with my grandparents. Unfortunately I can only spend time with one or other as they cannot be in the same room without an argument and, as my grandmother has dementia it is always the same few arguments, over and over and over.
This weekend was different. Mum and I had Sunday lunch with my grandfather in the dining room which has not been used in years. All the Christmases, New Year’s celebrations, Halloween parties and birthday barbeques were whipped up with the dust from the table cloth. Memories of a sneaky childhood glass of champagne on New Year’s eve, wiped away like a smudge with a napkin.
My grandfather’s hands, once the strong hands of a Navy Captain, shook with ever-worsening Parkinsons. Should I offer to help? Or will that hurt his pride? Mum and I pretended not to notice the spilled gravy or the stray carrot falling to the floor. There was not much conversation, just the three of us seated at one end of the long table. I think we were all remembering times gone by. Wonderful, painful memories.
My grandmother spent this time in bed, wrapped in her favourite dressing gown, insisting that no one would want to spend time with a stupid old woman.
When dinner was over, my brother and his two daughters, eight and two years old, joined us. I spent time sitting on my grandmother’s bed, pleading, bargaining, bribing her to come downstairs to meet them, as she insisted she had never seen them before. My brother had not seen her in months, and was taken aback when she finally agreed to come downstairs when he saw how frail she was. And she looked at him with a sense of recognition that she does not have for me. This made me feel a little hurt, but reassured that there is still some of her old self inside.
My nieces spent the afternoon in the garden, laughing - a garden that has not seen laughter in over ten years. I remember the times my brother and I spent being super-heroes and villains... many, many years ago.
I feel I spent the weekend pretending things were as they used to be when we were children. My grandmother acknowledged me as 'Susannah's (my mother's) daughter, when she usually treats me as a stranger.
I know this experience will be brief and that the next time I see her she probably will not remember me, but it is those brief moments that mean the world.