Today we are joined by Nicole VanBelleghem as she celebrates her grandparents on National Grandparent's Day. She shares her experience growing up with a grandmother living with dementia.
Tell us a little bit about your grandparents.
My Nanny and Grampie are two of the most unique individuals that have made an impact on my life. I grew up witnessing a constant connection of genuine love between them, they were inseparable and still are to this day. Although they are a true pair they have many differences that make them each unique. My Grampie has always been the more serious of the two, but will drop whatever he's doing and help me in a heartbeat if I need it. My Nanny on the other hand, has a silly side as she was always smiling and doing something to make her grandkids laugh. To this day, I would say they have the biggest hearts possible and have conveyed these beautiful traits onto their children and grandchildren tremendously.
What kinds of things do you do with them?
Something I always did with my grandparents together was have sleepovers at their house. I would get so excited to do simple things with them like play board games or watch their favourite shows as we drank tea. When it was just my Nanny and I, you could always find us shopping and then I would come home with way more than needed just because my Nanny couldn’t resist! One of my Grampie's favourite things to do is watch the horse races. I have many fond memories of watching them on television or live with him. He would get so excited about which horse was going to win the race. My Grampie still loves this activity and this is something we still try and do when the family is free.
What is one of your favourite memories with them?
One of my most adored memories with my grandparents is when I would get to tag along with them to their favourite restaurant, Red Lobster. Not only was this a treat for me, it was also a place my grandparents visited so often that they knew almost everyone who worked there. We were treated like royalty and my Grampie always made sure I got an endless amount of cheese buns, which I would always take home with me for a treat later. Although this memory isn't something that sounds very adventurous, it is something that has stuck with me because it was a time in my life that I constantly looked forward too. To this day I would still say Red Lobster is a favourite restaurant of mine and I always make sure to get extra buns.
What's the best advice your grandparent has given to you?
Being the extremely wise individual my Nanny was, she was always pouring as many tips, tricks and advice into me as she could. One piece of advice I remember the most is to keep trying no matter how frustrated I get with something because eventually things will work out. My Nanny was always involved in the church and it was her words and encouragement that always pushed me to be involved in the church whether it was when I sang or played the piano for everyone that day.
Describe what it is like to have a grandparent who lives with dementia.
Having a grandparent with dementia is still something that I find very confusing to describe. In the beginning especially, it is very difficult to slowly lose one of your best friends as they start with forgetting about your recital next week, but not long after they have trouble remembering your name. This process was especially hard as my Nanny would suffer too as she became more and more frustrated and confused with what was going on with her. Presently, my Nanny is in a very late stage of dementia which requires full time care. Although I grieved the loss of her mentally and emotionally, many times the love is still there and will never be gone and the physical connection I can still have with her is something I am entirely grateful for.
What would you tell other young adults who have a grandparent living with dementia?
To anyone else who has gone or is going through a similar situation like my family, I want you to know that this disease does not define your grandparent. Don't give up loving them unconditionally as you did before this disease. Remember them as the grandparent you grew up with and adored and always wanted to be like. Keep fighting to find a cure for this awful disease so hopefully less and less people will have to endure the specific pain of losing a loved one.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Happy National Grandparent's Day to everyone whether you know someone fighting this disease or not. I encourage you to cherish the time you have with the people around you and although it is hard, just remember that everything happens for a reason. Don’t stop fighting. I love you Nanny and Grampie. Forever and always.