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  5. My grandma couldn't remember my name because of dementia. It really hurt even though I know it wasn't her fault.

My grandma couldn't remember my name because of dementia. It really hurt even though I know it wasn't her fault.

Nandini Maharaj   

My grandma couldn't remember my name because of dementia. It really hurt even though I know it wasn't her fault.
  • I've had mixed feelings about my uncommon name my entire life.
  • My grandma had dementia and despite me visiting her regularly, she forgot my name.

I've always had mixed feelings about having an uncommon name. My name means "daughter who brings joy" and is the female version of my dad's name, Anand.

It has three syllables, which I have to repeat whenever I meet someone. What I didn't count on was having to sound out these syllables to my grandma.

When I was 16, my grandma started to forget things like turning off the stove and mistaking sugar for salt. Eventually, she lost interest in reading Harlequin romance novels and watching back-to-back episodes of "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy."

She stared off into the distance as the nightly news filled our living room. The woman who helped name me and raise me seemed to be disappearing, her matronly frame thinning along with the silvery hair she effortlessly swept into a bun.

Dementia is anything but normal

An estimated five million people are said to be living with dementia, and the CDC expects this number to reach 14 million by 2060. Dementia isn't a specific disease but rather a set of symptoms that includes a loss of memory, language, cognition, and problem-solving and interferes with daily routines.

There are several causes of dementia, but the most common one is Alzheimer's disease. Memory loss is one of the earliest symptoms of dementia and is often noticed first by other people besides the affected individual.

While it's not unusual to forget things as you get older, the type of cognitive and mental decline that's seen in people with dementia is not a normal part of aging. Along with cognitive changes, family members may notice psychological changes as well.

In my grandma's case, she seemed to lose interest in activities she once enjoyed. As her symptoms worsened, she became increasingly confused and agitated, only giving one-word answers to questions.

Meeting my grandma each week

Despite being the youngest of seven, my mom, a single mother of two, didn't have any help from her sisters with caring for my grandma. Eventually, my mom had to make the difficult decision to move my grandma into a nursing home.

My mom would visit my grandma daily while my sister and I accompanied her on weekends. Each time I saw my grandma, she would accept my embrace.

But her touch felt more like the warmth extended to a friendly acquaintance rather than a child she had known and loved since birth. I would say, "Hi Ma, I'm your granddaughter, Nandini," to which she would nod her head and say, "Yes."

It felt like our roles had switched. Just a few years earlier, it was my grandma asking me if I was hungry and wanted something to eat after school and now, I was asking her what she had eaten for breakfast and if she was warm enough in a cardigan.

The only times our conversations veered from talking about food and the weather were the rare occasions when she asked me about school. "Did you come first in your class?" she asked me one day.

My grandma had a second-grade education and wanted her children and grandchildren to succeed in school. When I graduated at the top of my class in university, I thought back to this moment.

It struck me that, although she couldn't remember my name, she never forgot about the value of getting an education. And she never forgot that she wanted more for her kids.

Despite everything, some memories remain intact

The weekend before my 17th birthday, my grandma was receiving palliative care at a hospital for pneumonia. I went to see her, knowing it would probably be the last time.

The same woman who had greeted me with a hot meal every day after school was now refusing food and water. I watched as my mom tried to cool my grandma's lips and gums with a pink oral swab.

"Hi Ma, it's Nan," I said. This time, she didn't look at me or recognize my voice.

There was no hint of confusion or agitation on her face. Instead, she seemed eerily calm, staring into the distance.

As I held her hand, she reached out and cradled my head in her arms like she had done so many times before. It didn't matter whether she remembered my name or that I was her granddaughter, only that she was a mother comforting a child in pain.

What I remember most about my grandma

My grandma was a masterful cook, seamstress, and gardener — the epitome of a Trinidadian homemaker. She planted plum trees that survived drought and hurricane-level windstorms.

Her skin and the coffee she drank every morning were the color of warm amber. When I came home from school, she sat by the window in her rocking chair.

She bought me the leopard print dress I wore to every birthday and holiday. When my dad died, she became like a second mother.

She died the morning after my 17th birthday. Sometimes, it pains me to relive these memories, but I've learned that grief is the price of loving someone and wishing that the past could be different.

Nandini Maharaj is a freelance writer covering health, wellness, identity, and relationships. She holds a master's degree in counseling and a doctorate in public health.


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