Country of Origin: United States of America
“Are you sure you want to go visit Grandma T? It might be difficult for you to see her this way,” my grandma, whom I call “Oma,” asked me.
“Why?” I asked in return. I knew my great grandma had recently moved from her home to a memory care facility, but I wasn’t aware to what extent her mind had been affected. I hadn’t seen her in a few months.
“She gets really upset sometimes,” she replied. “And she probably won’t remember who you are.”
Oma told me this with utmost apprehension in her voice. It wasn’t that she was trying to convince me not to come with her to visit her mother. Rather, she wanted to protect me from the potential pain of witnessing the inevitable change that our family had been dreading for years.
“No, I want to go see her,” I insisted. “This could be the last time. We don’t know.”
I felt like I should’ve visited her more before this, and I was worried that our time together on this earth would be cut too short, too soon.
A memory not so picture perfect
As soon as we walked into Grandma T’s room, the first thing I noticed was the photos hanging on the walls. Decorating the space were frames filled with pictures of her kids, grandkids, great grandkids, and everyone in between from various periods of time.
The room was quite small and unable to accommodate the elaborate decor of trinkets Grandma T is known for. However, the dozens of photos helped make it feel more homely. Grandma T is also known for her love of taking family photos at every moment, from the most important to the utterly mundane.
I heard a laugh. A laugh that sounds like mine but filled with a bit more resonance and wisdom.
“It’s good to see you girls,” Grandma T said. She sat in her brown leather recliner while looking up at us with happy eyes.
“Who do you have with you, Michelle?” Grandma T asked Oma.
“I’m not Michelle,” Oma replied. “Guess again.”
“Oh,” Grandma T said simply. “Adell.”
“No, that’s another daughter,” Oma corrected. “I’m Delila.”
“And you have your daughter with you. Good,” Grandma T said about me.
“I’m Brooklyn, your great grandchild,” I told her. I didn’t mind the mistake or that she didn’t seem to recall my name. “Your oldest great grandchild.”
“Oh, perfect,” Grandma T smiled. “It’s so good to see you. I always love it when you come to see me.”
I could tell she didn’t know exactly who I was anymore, but it was clear she knew I was someone she loved. That’s the most important thing to me.
This visit was short and there wasn’t much talking going on. I let her know some things about my life like where I worked and how I had recently graduated from school, but it wasn’t as elaborate as our conversations in the past.
I felt saddened by this because I knew our visits wouldn’t be the same anymore, but at least most of them were captured on film and SD cards. For my entire life, I’d always seen Grandma T carrying a camera in her purse. Trying to figure out how many photos she took of her family would be like trying to count the stars in the sky.
For our next visit, I hoped to return to normalcy by bringing in some photos of my own–ones that she gave me.
A picture is worth a thousand words
The next time Oma and I visited Grandma T, I brought some photos of us. Throughout my lifetime, Grandma T gifted me hundreds of printed photos that she took of my family and me. It didn’t take long to sift through them and find some fun ones to take with me.
“This was when you and I dyed Easter eggs,” I said as I held up a photo of her and me when I was little. “We did this every year for a long time.”
Grandma T muttered one of her famous catchphrases as she stared at the photo with a smile, “Oh, my stars.”
“And here’s a more recent one from last year where we were celebrating your birthday,” I said as I showed her the next photo.
We spent the visit reminiscing about the past. During a game of Scrabble, we laughed and made jokes about what was happening in the pictures. Before she had to move out of her home, she was the one showing me the pictures. She used to tell me the stories, and now I tell them to her.
Nearly every time we visited each other as I grew up, she would bring me more pictures to add to the endless stack of ones she had already given me. A major focus point of each Grandma T visit was looking through each individual photo and discussing them.
The recent visits with her made me see that our relationship doesn’t have to change, just the role of the storyteller does.
Throughout my life, Grandma T gave me more photos than most people ever take in their lifetime. The photos themselves make wonderful memories, and they mean even more to me because she gave them to me. Not only do the pictures carry the energy of the moments captured within them, but they carry the energy she brings with her wherever she goes.
Take a picture so it’ll last longer
I used to fear getting older and losing my memory. I hated the thought of forgetting about my life and the people I love. I thought that once I lose that, I’ll lose myself.
At a young age, that fear led me to start following in my great grandma’s footsteps. I started taking pictures of all the beautiful moments I shared with my family and friends. I did this because I want a visual connection to my past if I ever forget it.
I’m not sure why Grandma T took so many pictures, but maybe she had the same idea.
When I see her, she never seems quite certain who I am. She may not always know my name, my relation to her, my age, or where I work, but I get to see her face light up every time I bring the scrapbook for us to scope through.
The beauty of it is that she remembers how I make her feel. The details of who she believes me to be or not be don’t make a difference. The only part that matters is that we still get to experience life together and share some good laughs.
She showed me that love doesn’t require a physical memory to be alive; love is about a connection of souls.
But photos definitely help, too.
Thank you to Jullia Joson for their inspired edit on this piece and everyone else on the Lifestyle & Relationships team.
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