Now that I am the parent of a wonderful 7 year old, I find myself reflecting often of those memories I had. It is not so normal these days for a child's grandparents to live in the same town. Sure, grandparents make many, many visits...but for me, it meant so much to have my Nana a 20 minute drive away. And, when I was a kid, long distance calls really did cost a lot of money. So, it was awesome to be able to pick up the phone and call Nana without worrying the call would cost an arm and a leg. We traveled to Myrtle Beach together many, many times. Nana even purchased a mobile home in N. Myrtle Beach so all of her family would have a free place to stay if we wanted to go to the beach. So many memories...
A few weeks ago, Batya reminded me that Nana's birthday was coming up. Immediately I began to think about how I wanted Carlie to know and have a relationship with my Nana, her BoNana! So, we began to plan for a visit to Columbia. Well, ever since my Mom died in 2004, whenever we visit Columbia, we always go to the cemetery to visit my Mom, Carlie's Nana. It truly is a blessing to live so close to Columbia...Ok, we'd leave Saturday morning, drive straight to visit Nana and then go visit Mom. We always try to work in at least one meal with friends and family (again a blessing to be so close). Candy, my mom's youngest sibling, emailed me prior to our visit to remind me that Nana was suffering from Dementia ..and she wanted me to be prepared (and also to prepare Carlie).
We told Carlie that BoNana might ask her the same question a few times...and Carlie was a true champ. She certainly did not mind giving Nana 8 hugs in the 45 minutes we visited with her!
"One way to conceive of dementia is as a midbar, a wilderness. For the Israelites, the forty years of sojourning in the midbar after their liberation from slavery were mysterious and difficult: They wandered with few markers toward an unknown destination; they could not sustain themselves without divine help; they were vulnerable to unsympathetic people they met along the way and to the harsh realities of nature; they could not return to the place of their memories, Egypt; and they could not truly imagine what lay ahead." (Jewish Pastoral Care: A Practical Handbook from Traditional and Contemporary Sources, Rabbi Dayle Friedman, pg. 78)
It was truly a wonderful experience to see Nana and to allow Batya and Carlie to hug her and show her how much she is loved. It really does not matter to me if Nana remembers today that we visited. It does not even matter if she forgot right after we left. What Nana is experiencing is much scarier for her than any of us could possibly imagine. She joked about the fact that she really does not matter much. It did not even appear that she was bothered by not remembering. But, how can we know? How could I possibly understand what she is experiencing? It is not for me to understand. What I (and everyone else that loves her) can do is to visit with her, to love her and make sure that she is comfortable.
Now, I do not for a moment believe that it is any easier for her family to experience this. After all, we are also experiencing a difficult time. It may be confusing for Nana...but it is heart wrenching for those of us that love her. And, it is important that we remember the good times and celebrate with her - even if she does not remember. She remembers who we are...and by celebrating with her, she is happy then...and that is what matters. Of course, each of us deals with the realities of our family members in our own way. And while there are many "right" ways of experiencing these moments with our loved ones, there is a wrong way: We cannot forget. We must remember for them...we must be their memories and help them. And, if they are frustrated or angered because they do not remember, we need to be sensitive and remind them how much we care for them NOW.
I had every intention of writing this blog Saturday night - we visited with Nana Saturday afternoon. However, I was and am still dealing with my own feelings regarding those experiences with Nana. What I know for sure is that every time I am able, I will take Carlie to visit Nana...so that that connection can be remembered. Pictures, words, memories...
Rabbi Erin Boxt