Last week was a tricky one. Whilst the rest of the country started to pick themselves up and carry on in the wake of Manchester’s devastating terrorist attack, I took a phone call that quite literally brought me to my knees.
(Or – more accurately – brought me to my knees and then made me make some weird hyperventilating wolf howling noises whilst I lay on the floor).
It was a phone call that I’d been expecting for a long time and yet a phone call that I prayed would never come.
A phone call that told me that my beautiful Babcia had finally given up her long battle with dementia.
Now, most of you reading this will have never met my Babi, but those that have will agree that she was truly one of a kind. She was remarkable beyond measure.
She’d greet everyone and anyone with theatrical embraces and leave red lipstick prints on their cheeks.
She was hell bent on trying to get me to Polish Saturday school.
She pronounced Sainsbury’s ‘Shansbury’s’.
She started 75% of her sentences with ‘when I was in Africa…’.
She loved Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and playing cards and Turkish delight and pink nail varnish and sunbathing and drinking brandy and she was my entire world.
She was brave and hilarious and perfect without even realising it.
A woman who supported me without judgement and always knew I was capable of anything. A woman who raised me up constantly, even when it felt like others doubted me.
And so with her death comes a fresh wave of grief. A big, raw, overwhelming sadness that I will never get to look into her beautiful glittering eyes again or hold her hand or tell her that I love her.
But it is not a new grief, just a different kind of grief. Because I have been grieving for my grandmother for a really, really long time.
It is just that now I am not only grieving for the incredible woman who gave me so many memories, but I am also grieving for the old woman I used to visit in a care home.
I am grieving for my Babi, and I am also grieving for the lady whose favourite questions were: ‘So do you have any family?’ and ‘Where do you live?’.
I was lucky in a sense that although she no longer recognised me as her grandaughter, she did recognise me as someone she loved and cared for – even right up until the end. Or at least, that’s what I choose to believe.
She knew that in a past life, I had meant something to her.
Her face would always study mine with a sense of knowing and whenever I would tell her that I loved her, she would always say ‘and I love you’.
Grieving for a relative with dementia is one of the most surreal experiences and not something you can ever really prepare for.
Watching every memory, secret and joke slip away as if it never was, is terrifyingly hard, no matter how strong you are.
And every time there is a new deterioration – a new part of that person that is lost forever – your heart shatters. Because dementia is, for anyone watching it take hold, a constant cycle of heart break.
I live in regret that I didn’t listen to more life stories whilst the memories were alive in her head. That I didn’t learn more about her childhood, about her escape from Poland, and about those infamous years she spent as a kid living in Africa.
That I didn’t know more about her as a person, rather than just her as a grandmother.
But I am forever grateful that she was not only here for so much of my life, but that she was such a large part of it. That I had the chance to form a close relationship with her, and I will always cherish every memory with her. I will cherish the nights we watched Blind Date and Gladiators together on the sofa. I will cherish all the times she went into meltdown because I wasn’t wearing a vest – even when I was 18 and it was June. I will cherish all the nights she brushed my hair, sang Polish lullabys to me and made me pray to a cross hung on the wall above her bed.
I will cherish the summers in Italy and the long road trips to Poland. I will cherish the pierogi and the bowls of strawberries, sugar and cream. I will cherish the way she used to bang crossly on the bathroom door when I wouldn’t let her come in to help me wash my back when I was in the bath and the way she’d never let me have a drink with ice in because she said it would give me tonsillitis.
But more than that, I will always cherish you, my Babcia.
And so I hope that wherever you are now, you have peace and you have happiness.
I hope that you are reunited with your darling Rudey, that you have brandy and playing cards and sunshine, and that life is finally, giving you everything that you deserve <3
I just wanted to give a standing ovation to all you carers out there looking after dementia patients, you truly are beyond incredible.