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The Story My Grandmother With Dementia Still Remembers That Brings Me to Tears

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My grandmother has dementia. We hadn’t seen each other in more than six months, and I was feeling rather guilty. Still, a lot had happened in my life, which had left me lacking the time to travel to see her. I’d completed another semester of college, gotten married and became a homeowner.

As we walked into the nursing home, I slipped my hand into my husband’s and took a deep breath. What parts of me had been erased from her memory this time? It was a painful question, but one I found myself considering each time I went to see her.

“Please, God, just please let her remember my face,” I found myself praying.

When we walked into the building, I immediately saw my grandparents, sitting only 15 feet away. My grandfather smiled and waved, and I caught my breath, waiting for my grandmother to see me. I watched her blank face for a moment before recognition spread across it.

She knew who I was. No, she didn’t remember my husband’s name was Zac, and I doubt she would have understood who he was without me. She even forgot my name a few times in conversation, and she didn’t understand when to use silverware at lunch. But she remembered my face.

At the end of the meal, Zac showed my grandparents some of our wedding photos. They said all the things seemingly mandated of grandparents: “We’re so proud of you,” “You both looked so lovely” and “We wish we could have traveled the distance to come to your wedding.”

And then, in the midst of their delight over our pictures, the moment I had been waiting for happened. My grandmother paused and began to retell a story I’ve heard a million times:

“You know, I still remember,” my grandmother said to me as she took my hand in hers, squeezing it gently. “When we went to…” She paused, unable to think of the next word.

“Target?” I filled in for her.

“Yes, when we went there and all the other girls were running about. And you stayed with me and you held my hand and everything was so confusing. But you stayed with me.”

A lump formed in my throat. She told me this story every time I saw her, but that didn’t stop the tears from coming.

No, my grandmother doesn’t remember my name, nor does she recognize my husband. She has a hard time remembering who my mom is in relation to me, and she can’t use basic utensils without some sort of instruction.

However, in one way, her dementia has done something beautiful to her memory. She doesn’t remember the times I visited when I was younger and spent too much time looking at my phone. She has no memory of my selfishness, my impatience or my controlling nature. I’m just the granddaughter who held her hand and never left her side that one time in that one store.

I don’t mean to sensationalize my grandmother’s dementia. It’s a disease that I wouldn’t wish upon anybody. And it’s not like all of her bad memories go first, leaving pleasant ones behind. The fact of the matter is there are some grandkids she no longer likes because she only remembers the most recent negative interactions. But I think there’s something to be learned from my grandmother’s sole vivid memory of me.

What if we intentionally forgot the painful and bitter memories we have of people in our lives, and instead, clung to the ones that make us feel secure, loved and appreciated? What kind of person might we become?

A version of this post originally appeared on

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Originally published: June 15, 2016
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