By: Teena Songetay (St. Croix Ojibwe)
In the summer of 2015, my Grandma B was diagnosed with memory loss disorder, according to her then regular physician. Later she was told yes, she indeed had dementia back then. She was still able to take care of herself, cooking, cleaning, working, paying her bills, driving, etc. Growing up, my brother and I had spent a lot of time with my Grandma B, as my mom was working either overnight shifts or working two jobs to help make ends meet and ensuring we had the things we needed for school, sports and life. She and my mother had raised us on the St Croix Ojibwe reservation. We were expected to go to school, have really good grades, play sports and be involved in our cultural way of life. We spent our childhood and teenage years going to powwows (I had danced Jingle Dress) and go to our Big Drum ceremonies regularly. They had taught us to “treat people the way we’d like to be treated” and also “take care of those you can help when you can help them”, “Listen to your elders, respect them and take care of them”. These women had taught us compassion and empathy, along with strength and wisdom.
After a few years, we had realized that my Grandma B had not been herself in quite a while, and had decided to check more on her at her home. We realized she hadn’t done her dishes in a few days, and lately, she was eating out more often. So my mother decided then and there to move in and help take care of my Grandma. This had happened right before the Corona Virus Pandemic started. So we had two households we were maintaining during the Pandemic. However, both my mother and I had to return back to work after the 3-month break. We had it figured out where I was coming down during the evening, and night with my grandma while my mother was working the overnight shifts.
After a year of overworking both myself and my mother, I had decided that overworking at the job I was at, just wasn’t worth it. I’d rather spend the time with my Grandma and make sure she is taken care of. So I left my job and became her 24/7 caregiver.
During the first month of me being her full-time caregiver, she had an emotional outburst. She had forgotten where she was, what she was doing there and had temporarily regressed back to her teen years. She had wanted to go to her childhood home to her mom who must be so worried about her. Grandma had started crying and tried walking down her driveway to her road. I had stopped her and tried reasoning with her at first before realizing this wasn’t helping. I had asked her about her house and her mom, asked her if she could help me with a household chore before I drove her “home”. At that point, I had realized this was going to be a lot more emotional than I had realized. From that moment on, whenever she napped or if she went to bed early, I was gathering more and more information on this sickness. To this day, I still look up more information weekly on what to look for next, how to resolve upcoming issues as they arise, and also reach out daily/weekly to my network of fellow caregivers online (TikTok/Instagram) for advice when needed and also to vent when needed.
With this information and this network, my mother and I are keeping my Grandma as active and healthy as possible but above all making sure she knows she is loved and cared for. I believe if I were to tell my younger self anything, I would make sure I would write down more of our family history and her stories. My biggest advice would be to network with others and remember when those bad/rough moments happen, it’s the dementia, it’s not her. You need to have patience and be as encouraging as possible.
Remember life without dark moments; you’d never truly be able to appreciate the good times. There are times, I feel myself breaking down some, asking myself why her? But then she smiles at me with love in her eyes, and I feel everything will be okay. Her love and happiness means the world to me.
The top picture (1) is of My Grandma and I
Bottom pic (2) is of my mom Laura and my Grandma Bev