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Happy 90th, Grandma

By Caitlin Littlefield | Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Two weeks ago, my grandmother celebrated her 90th birthday. Sadly, she will not remember the pictures we took, the flavor of the cake she ate (chocolate – her favorite), or the gifts she unwrapped.

This is because my grandmother has dementia.

You may not know Jewel Estelle, but everyone has someone like her. She’s my grandmother. She isn’t a celebrity, never wrote a book, and never won a beauty pageant. There won’t be a scholarship, park bench, or statue dedicated in her honor. But is this what matters? Is this what makes someone’s life important? The answer, I think, is no.

Nine months ago, my grandmother boarded a plane and flew 3,000 miles from the west coast to the east coast. She moved to be closer to her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. As a family, we had decided that it was time to put my grandmother in an assisted living facility, and we chose one that was close to our home. My grandmother, at the age of 89, traveled 3,000 miles to start an unknown lifestyle; one that every day she struggles to comprehend.

The last nine months have not been easy for her or my family. There is a constant reminder that no matter how many laughs we share, or tears we shed, the probability of her remembering these moments are few and far between. But, I know it’s not all for nothing.

Dementia is something my grandmother lives with each and every day, but it does not define her. The stories my grandmother shares with us about her past define her. She loves to talk about going out on dates with my grandfather, and, of course, her bridge club. She also loves to ride in the car and listen to music from the big band era. (When you play those tunes, you can tell she’s remembering a time full of dancing, friends, and love.)

I would love nothing more than to give my grandmother the present; a place where she understands her surroundings and can fully embrace her living situation. I would love her to understand that her husband passed away five years ago or that we can’t call her mother to say hello. I would love to give her memories from her 90th birthday. Those wishes, though, will probably go unanswered.

But what makes the situation easier is realizing that the little things have added up to one great life for her. Jewel Estelle, my grandmother, fell in love, was happily married for more than 65 years, and saw her kids grow up and start their own families.

And, in my mind, that’s worth more than any award or park bench.


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