A smiling Black man and woman with his arm around her shoulders and their heads together

Even in Decline, My Granny Still Keeps Us Together

A smiling Black man and woman with his arm around her shoulders and their heads together

A family photo of Carnell and Arstella, grandparents of the author. (Photo courtesy of Naja Ji Jaga)

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Commentary, Naja Ji Jaga

Some of my fondest memories from my childhood are solving crossword puzzles with my granny Arstella while she drank her homemade hot coffee (even sneaking me a few sips now and again). I also loved watching movies together. She had the most extensive collection of DVDs I have ever seen in my entire life. I enjoyed being at my granny’s home because of her presence and because we created pleasant memories every time I visited. These are memories she does not remember.

I wish I had spent more time at her home. I wish I could have learned about her life through her words.

She began creating the rich history of my family’s home with my grandpa. As she raised three daughters who eventually had their own children, she has provided housing for four generations of our family to live among each other. Granny made a life for herself and my grandpa. Then, as a mother and grandma, she laid the groundwork for the rest of our lives.

She continues to be essential in keeping our family together, but her dynamic in our lives has not been the same since she was diagnosed with dementia.

“Dementia is a disease you never expect to affect your family,” said my grandpa Carnell.

I sat down with my grandpa to hear his perspective on his wife’s life, both before and after her diagnosis. My grandmother can no longer speak for herself, so I let my grandpa give insight on her behalf because he was, and continues to be, her closest confidant.

He said he feels stuck watching my granny losing more and more of her memories. I related to that feeling. It’s confusing and life-changing to see someone who knew everything about you not be able to recognize your face. He said their 60-plus years of marriage cultivated the love and kindness needed to stay motivated after a diagnosis like this.

>>>Read: My Father’s Life Is the Greatest Lesson I Have Learned

This seems to be the case for everyone in my family. Dementia is a painful disease that ravages the lives of all involved. Ensuring my granny’s physical, mental and medical needs are taken care of has taken a noticeable toll on my family. Now that my granny’s mind is past the point where the medication will help, my family must build our lives around her dementia. It has never been out of obligation but out of love. We just want her to live the rest of her life in the good graces she deserves.

Although it has been a challenge to see my loved ones battle this journey, there are highs and lows in this process. My entire family has constantly supported my grandma as she did us, which is what brings us together now. While the family works together, we make new memories, even if my granny will not remember. So I believe my grandpa Carnell is right when saying that love and kindness provide the necessary foundation. Our love and kindness for Arstella is what keeps us together and always will.

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