When my grandma was young, everyone in her family called her Barbara Lynn. Due to the fact the family had two Barbara’s, each had their middle name tacked onto their first so everyone could tell who they were talking about.
The few who are left in our actual family have always called her Barbara Lynn.
I never understood why caregivers I knew referred to their loved ones with Alzheimer’s by their first name, but now I do.
Shortly after (or maybe even before) I moved her in with me, it became obvious that she no longer recognized me as Rachel, her granddaughter. From day to day and even hour by hour, her present day reality started rewinding to earlier periods of her life. When I referred to her as Grandma, it became very distressing and confusing for her. More often than not, she doesn’t see herself as an old woman. I am not part of her world as she knows it, because I came on the scene way too late to be carved into her memory banks.
At first, she would call me her grandma. Once I stopped calling her that, she began identifying me as everyone in the book— her mom, her dad, my uncle, my father… sometimes a close friend and other times a complete stranger.
Sometime soon after this new behavior began, I started calling Grandma by her name.
Calling Grandma Barbara Lynn didn’t feel right at first, like I was violating a commandment or calling her out of her name. Now, I call her Barbara Lynn even when talking about her. Just like all things, deal with it long enough and you get used to it.
It is heartbreaking to watch a loved one with Alzheimer’s lose their ability to recognize who you are as you know yourself. The trick is to not take it personally. Everyday, Alzheimer’s caregivers have to remind themself constantly that nothing their loved one does is meant to hurt them intentionally.
All you can do is try to hold onto the love and joy from times past.
My prayer for myself and anyone reading this going through a similar situation is for peace and comfort amidst daily spats of grief and uncertainty 🙏🏼