My nanna has dementia. It’s getting worse. Some days she is OK, some days she is terrible, driving my poor uncle, who is selflessly caring for her full time, understandably crazy.
It’s a sad disease, especially when it impacts younger people. But it can also be oddly hysterically funny. It feels wrong to laugh at, but until there is some sort of cure, those caring for someone with the disease deserve to be able to see the lighter side of it, I feel, if only to keep their own sanity. Answering the same questions over again every five minutes is frustrating even for just a few hours, let alone every day.
My grandmother’s sister suffered from Alzheimer’s, and I remember as a child thinking it quite hilarious when she would take dirty dishes, “dry” them with a tea towel and then put them away in the cupboard as if they had been washed, forgetting the crucial step of actually washing them. That being said, I wasn’t the one that had to go through the cupboards to find the dirty plates, often with chunks of food still on them, and clean up the mess. I also wasn’t tasked with having to try and tactfully dissuade her from helping out with the dishes anymore.
But my grandmother takes the hilarity to a whole new level. Nanna’s latest annoyance is the failure of my mother to return her bicycle, which my mother borrowed when she grew out of her child bike and needed a new ride up to the high school when she was aged 12, circa 1972. The bike got many years of use. When we were young kids, mum and dad took us out on rides on the bike, which by then had a child seat fastened on the back. But it is now 2010, some 38 years after the original loan, and Nanna wants the bike back. So she can go riding. Even though she is very elderly and has troubles hobbling around the house.
Nanna subtly hints at the failure to return the bike by refusing to return anything loaned to her by my mother, saying it is payback. Whenever she sees a bicyclist, Nanna shakes her head and says “I used to have a bike like that, but Julie [my mother] took it and never gave it back.”
She meticulously tells the story of how, as a much younger woman, she took the rubber grip off the bike handle, wrote her name on a piece of paper, rolled it up, put it in the handlebars and then put the rubber grip back on.
“My name is inside that bike. I wrote my name and put it in there so that everyone would know it was mine. Julie knows it is mine, but she won’t give it back,” Nanna angrily tells anyone who will listen.
The bicycle story has snowballed to the point that when Nanna saw the Tour de France on television, she turned to my uncle and sister and said: “I used to ride just like that! Just as fast. When I had my bike. I used to do that. But then that bloody Julie stole my bike and she won’t give it back! My name is inside the handlebars!”
My uncle, tired from hearing the same story escalated to new heights on each retelling (a family trait, I have to say…), snaps back “You weren’t in the bloody Tour de France!”
“Yes I was!” Nanna replies.
“What do you want your bloody bike back for? You couldn’t ride it!”
“Yes I could, I could still ride it! I could ride it just like them!” Nanna grumbles stubbornly while gesturing at the television. “But Julie stole it.”
In Nanna’s mind, she was a champion bike rider, up to the standards of those men who face the peaks and troughs of the French alps. Her career was only hampered by the undeniable fact that my mother took her bike to go up the high school and won’t give it back.
But despite her ability to call in a 38 year old loan, she can’t remember who the hell I am.
“So… am I your aunt?” she asks me.
“No Nan, you’re my grandmother,” I reply.
“Oh really. Grandmother. That’s lovely. Wow, I must be getting old then, you’re a grown up.”
Not too old for a spin around the block on the old two-wheeler, apparently.