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My Granny's Dementia - Meals Within My Memories

May 5, 2021

When I think about Granny's dementia, food is an easy way to separate what she went through in my head. 

Some of my earliest memories, not just of Granny, are driving to her house on a Sunday with my family: dad, mum and brother. We would troop into her small cottage and sit at her table for lunch, and without fail, every time we went, the first course would be soup. Scotch broth, to be more exact. Though as I ask my mum now, she says it was more a haphazard concoction than actual soup. A watery, dingy muck that you had to shove down your throat and pray dearly to God that it wouldn't come back up again (thankfully, it never did). My dad, having been brought up by my granny to eat everything on the plate, practically forced me to grin and bear it with some pertinent looks and purposeful nudges from across the table, which I'm now very grateful. Granny would have been devastated had she found out how bad it was, as her grandchildren were practically her world. What my parents didn't realise at this time was that this was the start of her Alzheimer's: even though she was never a great cook, the rapid deterioration of her mind definitely showed through her cooking. Her memory started to go, followed by her ability to look after herself, including cooking for herself. Granny went into a care home when I was around 7,

Some of clearer memories come as I grew up, and the care home held ceilidhs. Ceilidhs (kay-lees), for the non-Scots reading, are parties with music, food and dancing, and most are held in big halls where people get a bit... wild. Of course, being in a care home these ceilidhs were a lot more laidback than your typical ceilidh: instead of flinging each other round a hall for a Strip the Willow dance treading on forgotten cakes, everyone would gather in the lounge where the musicians would play sets, and sometimes requests from residents. Anyone from the public was allowed in, and the musicians were regulars that we all knew. Some of them were kids from the music program at the school: two of them were in my class. As a child, I remember sitting in the corner with my brother and some other friends, stuffing our faces with massive sausage rolls with stacks of discarded paper cups beside us. 'The Home', as it was known to all, seemed to always have an endless supply of tea, cakes and biscuits... at times I wonder if the 'old folks' were fed better than I was at my house! One time I often recall was at the Christmas ceilidh, when I was about 11. A tradition every Christmas was for one of the residents to cut the Christmas cake, and Granny was chosen for this year. Of course, she was helped by carers, but apparently perfectly capable of handling the knife by herself, she took to the cake like a saw to a block of wood, aggressively slicing the cake until we could all hear the screech of the knife against the plate. I still laugh about that to this day. Even as her mind deteriorated, Granny was a force to be reckoned with. That cake didn't stand a chance. 

Granny had a lot of moments through the years where her condition worsened. One of the worst ones I remember was a time when, after the doctor saw her on the Friday, he said she wouldn't make it to the Monday. That was around two years before she passed. My mum said that after the doctor saw her on the Monday, he told my parents 'We never read the book on Janet at school!' But the last one, about six months before she died, was the week around Christmas. We were told that she could go at any moment, and about two days before Christmas, things were looking very bleak. So imagine my dad's surprise when he got a call from the Home on Christmas Day, to say that my granny was awake, talking, and had eaten a two course Christmas dinner! We were shocked beyond belief, but at the same time, it was typical of Granny to surprise us all. Clearly, she wasn't gone quite yet, and she was letting us know. The next day, we were phoned to say she had eaten a full serving of spaghetti, and was sitting up in bed quite the thing. Still amazes us to this day. 

There are so many more memories I could mention. One day where we all sat in the dining room at the Home and ate a meal fit for a king where she remembered who I was for the first time in weeks. Christmas, not long before she went into the home, and as we ate Christmas dinner she spoke completely coherently for the first time in months, remembering things we thought were lost forever. Even to Granny's last couple of weeks, where my mum and dad sat at her bedside day and night, the carers at the home fed them with full course meals. My dad would come home at 8 in the morning, having sat with Granny all night, and wouldn't eat anything until the evening because he'd had so much food at the Home.
All in all, it's difficult for me to properly remember Granny, since I don't have that many memories of her before the Alzheimer's took hold. And after that she wasn't Granny. But with the soup, the ceilidhs, all of these were the times where I remember Granny. I don't remember the dementia through those. I remember her.
Faith Mission is a Christian organisation, they used to have meetings every Sunday where I lived. 
Janet was my Granny's name.
A set is a few tunes, mostly for accordions, that are put together. 
Strip the Willow is a dance. Google it. It's fun.


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1 Comment
  • Writing4Life

    Wow, this is so sad and sweet. These memories of your grandmother are so poignant, thank you for sharing them. <3

    5 months ago