Thursday, September 5, 2013

Memory Thief

My grandmother has dementia. It's been a slow progression over the last 10 years. It started with mild memory confusion, forgetting a name or date, mostly short term memory loss. I haven't had the opportunity to see her very often over the last 7 years as I lived a long distance from her, but each time I was in town to visit I could see her slipping further and further away. I was lucky because each time she always knew who I was and we'd enjoy our long chats about family history and life in general. She and my grandfather were the ones who introduced me to genealogy when I was in high school. She always had such wonderful stories, and she was always willing to take the time to answer all my questions and share all she knew.

One of my favorite things were these large scrapbooks she'd been keeping for many years. It was full of old art work and photos of her life. She wanted to be a fashion artist for the newspapers and magazines, back before they used photography for all the clothing ads. So she had a wonderful collection of fashion artwork from the print ads as well as her own drawings. I remember so vividly the day she pulled out these large black scrapbooks and cracked open the book to show me. I was mesmerized by each page. It was as if I could see every wish and dream she had as a young girl all laid out before me.

While growing up she lived a state away and had a big artistic job that took her to Italy. She painted tile. She'd create these beautiful murals. She was glamorous. She wore black liquid eyeliner and always smelled of roses. I can't smell rose water today without thinking of her. She wore silk blouses and could flirt with the best of them. Oh and her laugh! It was deep and rich and bubbled up from within her.

In high school she moved to our state and lived about 20 minutes away. She still painted tile and shared a studio space with my mother. I saw her often and loved it. I'd go spend the night at her house, especially those days when I just needed a break from my siblings. She was always so welcoming. She'd make eggs and cheese danish for breakfast and watch movies late into the evening, but always took a bath before she went to bed.

We came to visit our family this weekend, and yesterday my aunt brought her over to visit. She walked in withthe assistance of her walker, looking thin and frail, yet she was still wearing her black eye liner. Her hair a mixture of black and grey. She looked right at me and smiled. "Hello," she said as her eyes scanned the room. "There are so many people here," she continued. My aunt put her arm around her shoulders and asked if she recognized everyone, to which my grandmother said no.

She looked right at me and didn't recognize me. My heart was breaking. I had been warned. I knew what to expect and I wasn't angry, just terribly sad to see this women who was so full of life, with so many stories to tell, so confused.

My aunt said, "This is your granddaughter, Heidi."

"She is? Heidi?" I could see her struggling throuh the cloudy haze her memories are hidden behind and then she smiled. "Heidi," she says more confidently. "How long has it been since I saw you?"

Over the next few hours she settled in and after a few awkward moments I believe she started to remember me. My hubby took our kids and their cousins outside to the pool and I stayed with my grandmother. She needs someone with her at all times or she gets paranoid, but I was glad to do it. I wanted to memorize every thing I could. I wanted to look at her face, her hands and into her eyes. I knew the grandmother I knew was inside this frail shell, and I knew I may never see her again, but instead of mourning that, I wanted to enjoy every moment of our conversation, even if she asked me the same questions over and over again. I made her lunch and enjoyed watching her eat it. I sat beside her and talked about life and for a bit she had some really lucid moments.

She told me stories of her childhood...all stories I had already heard, but I stored away her voice and the way she laughed. The laugh hasn't changed at a bit. She spoke of her brother and how lucky and fortunate she felt she had been through her life. She couldn't remember how many daughters she had, but she remembered her summers on the island her grandparents owned playing with her cousins.

She drank coffee and then asked why no one had fed her lunch yet. We reminded her she'd eaten a tuna sandwich with apples and grapes and she said, "I did?" Then she asked for a piece of toast, which she ate in the same lady-like manner I always attributed to my grandmother.

When it was time to leave I hugged her as tight as I felt her frail body could handle and told her I loved her. She flirted with my husband and I smiled because she was showing her true nature yet again.

When my aunt returned home after dropping her off she told me, before even pulling out of the driveway, my grandmother turned to my aunt and said, "You have such wonderful friends. That couple, they were so lovely. You've known them for a long time, haven't you?"

My aunt smiled and nodded. "Yes, Mom, I've known them a very long time."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Kent Family Mystery Photos

My wonderful aunt has been helping me dig up photographs of my maternal grandmothers family. We've been able to find some wonderful photos, but sadly not many are labeled well. It got me thinking about my own photographs and whether my kids or grandkids would be able to decipher who was in each photo, date it was taken or the event. In regards to my photo albums they wouldn't be able to...but my photographs online or on my computer are at least labeled by who's in the photo.

It's definitely given me something to think about.

In our research search...we've come across a few photos have us stumped. 

All I know is this of the Kent family. Unsure of who each person is.

No idea who these children are.

Children unknown. This may be cousins or family...or maybe even school friends of the Kent family. The ages and genders don't match for the Kent siblings.

We think this is a family friend...unknown who it might be.