In a beautiful essay, the novelist Ann Patchett recalls how she moved back to her hometown—Nashville, Tennessee—in 1994, when she was 30, partly because she fell for a man there and partly to care for her grandmother, Eva, who was in her 80s and living with Ann’s mother.
Eventually, Eva, “one of the greatest loves of my life,” developed dementia and had to be moved to a locked floor in an assisted living facility. She died in 2005, at age 96.
Ann’s essay was published in The Guardian two years later. Here’s a link to the whole piece; my favorite part is below.
I never tried to associate my grandmother who lived in the dementia unit with the grandmother I had known years before. I resolved to love the woman I had. I put aside all memories of her feeding the quail in her backyard in northern California. I made a point to forget about her cherry trees and the friends she had who came over to drink gin and tonics in the evenings. That person, the careful seamstress of dolls’ clothes, the generous sharer of S&H Green Stamps, the one who made stews and loved her dogs and washed my hair in her kitchen sink, she was gone. But this person I had in her place still loved bananas and was capable of very sweet moods. She slept most of her days away, and sometimes I would wake her up to feed her a piece of the mango mousse cake that I told myself was her favorite. She would barely have the last bite swallowed before she was asleep again. When my grandmother fell out of bed in the middle of the night and broke her hip, I learned to call her Eva in the emergency room instead of Gram. For Eva she would turn her eyes toward me and sometimes say yes. I hoped that she was Eva again and that her dreams in those long days of sleep were full of dance halls and her father’s blacksmith shop and her mother’s kitchen in the old hotel. …
Since my grandmother died, I have dreamt about her every night. I go back to [the assisted living home] and I find her again. Her death was just a misunderstanding. She is better now, walking and laughing, telling me stories. She doesn’t need me to take care of her any more, and she has not come back to take care of me. We are simply together and glad for it.