3: The Little Woman

3: The Little Woman

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

The Little Woman

The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works is the family.

~Lee Iacocca

“Mom, is anything wrong?” My grandmother didn’t answer. My dad gently took her hands in his and asked once more. “Mom, what’s wrong?”

“Let me try,” my mom said quietly. “Mother, can you hear me?” She reached for my grandmother’s hands, but the second she touched them my grandmother brushed her away.

Even though my grandmother had dementia, she had been able to converse with people, although most of the time her words made little sense. But lately, my grandmother seemed indignant and reserved. As my parents searched for an answer, they had noticed that when Dad visited alone, Grandma would speak. Yet when Mom visited, Grandma seemed agitated.

The following week my parents arrived together. Dad slid Grandma’s lunch tray in front of her, but my grandmother shoved it away.

“How dare you bring your little woman on our lunch date!” My grandmother glared at my mom, who looked completely devastated.

“What do you mean, Mom?” Dad asked patiently. “This is my wife, your daughter-in-law, don’t you remember?”

“And you, little woman, how dare you come here with my husband!” With those words my grandmother flung her lunch on the floor.

Long ago my grandmother had affectionately called my mom “little woman” because she was tiny, unlike Grandma, who was tall and big-framed. Perhaps she remembered the name, but had forgotten my mom.

It might have been funny, but Grandma had accused her of being the other woman. During the next visit, Mom tried enticing Grandma with a box of her favorite chocolates, but she refused to acknowledge her.

When my father told the staff what had happened they explained that some women with dementia, like my grandmother, become confused and believe their sons are their husbands. The staff suggested we allow a week to pass before my mom visited again.

Even though my parents kept a good sense of humor during this period, I know it disheartened Mom. She had always been close to my grandmother and now she couldn’t visit her.

As the years passed, Grandma became silent, even with my dad. However the sight of my mom still disturbed her, so Mom and Dad gave up. Then one day the phone rang. It was the nursing home.

“We’re sorry, but her body is shutting down. We thought you’d want to know so that you can call the family together to say goodbye.”

Almost thirteen difficult years had passed. While my dad handled every emergency that concerned my grandmother, my mom had stood by helplessly. She yearned to see my grandmother one last time. She needed to express her love and say goodbye, even if it meant Grandma might become hostile.

As my mother approached the room she could see my grandmother on the bed. She had her eyes closed and each breath she took was slow and shallow.

“Mom? It’s me, Mom,” she whispered, “the little woman.” She reached out and gently touched my grandmother’s hand. She worried that Grandma might throw a fit, but instead my grandmother clasped my mother’s hand tightly and squeezed it.

With a smile on her face, Mom reminisced about old times and updated my grandmother on the lives of her grandchildren. While she chuckled through some stories, she cried through others. Then she told Grandma how much everyone loved her and how much she would be missed.

Most of all, she thanked her for being such a wonderful mother and grandmother. My grandma held her hand the entire time, and though Grandma never said a word, my mother believed she knew and understood everything Mom had told her. These two beautiful women, who loved each other so much, were finally family again.

~Jill Burns

More stories from our partners