Growing up, I was so lucky to be surrounded by such a close, loving family network. My Mum ran (and still runs) a boarding cattery in the gardens of my Grandparent’s house. Almost every day I would be there too playing with all of the animals and creating mess, much to my Grandmother’s annoyance. My Mum’s Mum, who I always called Grangran, was a loving, kind, generous, and a very spirited woman. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for someone, as long as they would sit down and have a cup of tea or five with her! She was always full of life. She’d walk around the house singing all day. If she wasn’t gardening she was cleaning the house before the cleaner arrived, because the house could not be a mess for the cleaner! When I started to play the flute, she’d often come in while I was practicing and offer her suggestions. If I didn’t practice for long enough, she’s lecture me on the way to my flute lessons about how I needed to be dedicated if I wanted to make the most of my talent.
Her and my Grandad were so dedicated to each other their whole lives. He may have been the head of the household, but she definitely was the boss. As they got older and things started to slow down, they would often just sit together in their conservatory and hold hands. When his health started to go down hill, she was wrecked with worry at how she could ever live without him. We noticed her not being able to find things around the house and asking the same questions over and over again. At first we thought these things could just be from the stress of worrying about my Grandad, but after his heart surgery, as his health started to improve, hers seemed to go down hill quite rapidly.
She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Although my Grandad was desperate to keep her at home, one day she had a seizure and things were never the same again. We had to convince my Grandad that moving her to somewhere where there were people who could take proper care of her was the best option for her. He didn’t want to be apart from her, and everyday he wanted to visit her and be by her side. The Alzheimer’s had her so tightly in it’s grip and the woman we knew and loved was slipping away every day. We hoped that she knew who we were but with everyday that passed, she got worse.
Grandad become very sick with cancer, and when it came time for him to move to somewhere where he could also get the medical care he needed, my Mum did everything she could to make sure that him and my Grangran could finally be together again at the same care home. This meant moving her from where she was to a new location, which in her state required a lot of organising and the help of an ambulance. On the day that they moved my Grangran to the care home where my Granddad was, he had already been there for a week by himself. She was at the point where she barely reacted to anyone anymore, but we knew they had to be together again. The paramedics wheeled her in to the room where he was sitting, and he walked over to see her. As he walked over, she held out her arms to him. She still knew him and she still loved him. This old couple even brought tears to the eyes of the paramedics as they were reunited.
Unfortunately his health deteriorated rapidly, and not long after they were reunited, he passed away in the night in June 2011. We hoped that the Alzheimer’s meant that she didn’t know he was gone, because we knew that her old self would have never been able to live without him by her side.
In February 2013 she passed away. Although we mourned her death greatly, we felt like we had already lost her years before.
My Grandparents were such important people in my life. When I met Menno, I knew he was the man I wanted to be with and wanted to grow old with. I look at my Grandparents’ marriage and how dedicated they were to each other, right until their last days, and I wish that for Menno and I. I want us to grow old and senile together, and when we are too tired to do anything anymore, just sit and hold each others hands.
I want to remember my Grandparents for the people they were before the illness. Going through their belongings, the things I treasure most are the photographs. They capture them as I want to remember them. At the most beautiful, happy and full of life.