Loving someone with dementia is unfathomably hard. It’s hard to talk to an adult as if she were a child. It’s hard to constantly worry about something happening to an adult who lives on her own.
Did she leave the stove on? Has she fallen down? Did she drive somewhere without telling someone? Is she lost?
But the hardest part is watching the sharpest, wittiest and most brilliant person in the world revert back to a time just after Adolph Hitler’s armies were defeated. The clock in her mind is set long before the tragedy of 9/11, Michael Jackson’s moonwalk, Elvis Presley’s musical revolution and even the resistance to the draft during the Vietnam War.
She was 9 years old in 1945. And while she is now once again filled with that 9-year-old’s wonder, it’s excruciating to know it has replaced her 83-year-old brain.
As soon as I saw the first trailer for “Christopher Robin,” a film based on the stories of Winnie the Pooh, I felt like a child again: in love with Winnie the Pooh, pining for adventure and uproarious laughter. It had been years since I was enamored by Pooh and his pals from the Hundred Acre Wood, a staple of my childhood that has faded by maturity and stress.
Nevertheless, I went to see the movie. It was amazing — written for the children who grew up too fast and needed to be reminded of where they came from. Existing in this world of anger, annoyance, hurrying and constant need to be somewhere, I needed Winnie the Pooh’s reminder that sometimes “doing nothing often leads to the very best kind of something.”
But there was something different about this version of the “Pooh Bear” I once knew. Perhaps, there was something different about me. Despite my younger years surrounded by Pooh, it was only now that I felt a true connection with the iconic children’s character.
In the movie, Pooh doesn’t understand why Christopher Robin is always stressed and working, instead of playing and having fun. In Pooh’s mind, sharing a beautiful day with loved ones is infinitely more important than any kind of work or responsibility.
When someone has dementia, it’s easy to toss them aside. We all get so caught up in the demand of daily life, having to take care of another human — an adult — is something we’d rather avoid.
I’ve backed away from visiting my grandmother so much. School is stressful. Work is tiring. I simply haven’t had time to go on an adventure with her. But now, as sappy as it sounds, Pooh made me realize that none of what I have to do matters more than spending time with the ones that I love, especially my grandmother.
Loving someone with dementia is hard, but maybe that’s because I keep treating it like a hardship. As silly and childlike as my grandmother’s become, she’s still the same, old, loveable woman who loves adventures. Now it’s time for me to have fun with life and with her.
I know there will be a time when we can’t be together. But as Pooh would tell me, the memories I make with her will stay with me forever.