Loving My Lola Through Dementia

These were some of the last words I whispered to Lola before she passed away.

My relationship with my grandmother was far from perfect. She had lived with my family during my growing years, and had a strong personality that clashed with mine.

Sometimes it was over something small, like refusing to join in when the family would share jokes with each other. She also criticised us for spending money on dining in nice restaurants, even though we didn’t do it excessively.

What hurt me most was when she would lose her temper while scolding me or discussing family issues with my parents. These conflicts often left deep wounds, and we became used to giving each other space. After a particularly heated argument, she would go and stay at a relative’s house.

After I left the Philippines to study in South Korea, we grew even more distant. I would temporarily set our issues aside whenever I had to leave for the school year.

But when I went home for winter vacation in early 2020, the lockdown happened and kept me grounded in the Philippines. This meant Lola and I were seeing each other 24/7 again. A lot of my hurts resurfaced, which heightened the tension between us.

In early 2020, I noticed that Lola became even harsher and more quick-tempered. She often got mad at our helper, and was always criticising her work or hurling false accusations at her. Whenever we defended our helper, Lola would then get mad at us. Her behavior was hurtful, so even though we lived together in one house, I avoided her as much as I could.

Her condition declined as the pandemic went on, and was worsened by the fact that she had been bedridden since 2019 due to an accident. The isolation didn’t help, especially since she was used to having people over. Eventually, our hunch was confirmed when she was officially diagnosed with dementia.

This became very real for loving someone with dementia. I had to decide to love Lola every day. Moment by moment. As her dementia worsened, each moment required a reset button—everything I had done or said to her minutes ago would get flushed from her memory, leaving her mind a blank slate.

One moment Lola would say, “I love you”, then 10 minutes later she would accuse me of abandoning her. After meals, she would forget that we had already fed her and would get mad at us for not giving her food, claiming that she had not yet eaten. Her mood swings often caused her to throw tantrums, shout at us, or say hurtful words.

It’s always been hard for me to ask for or extend forgiveness whenever I feel like the other person is not willing to admit to and resolve the issues on hand. For years, this hardness characterised my relationship with Lola. I never mustered the courage to say sorry to her, even for the times I was at fault, and we never sat down to address our hurts. But during the lockdown, God placed a burden in my heart to ask my Lola for forgiveness and to also extend it to her.

One evening, Lola called me to her room and told me she felt lonely. At that moment, my heart went out to her. After a quick prayer asking God for help, I sat beside her, hugged her, and asked her to forgive me for distancing myself and harbouring bitter feelings towards her. Lola forgave me. We ended the evening with me reading the Bible to her.

One evening, Lola called me to her room and told me she felt lonely. At that moment, my heart went out to her. After a quick prayer asking God for help, I sat beside her, hugged her, and asked her to forgive me for distancing myself and harbouring bitter feelings towards her. Lola forgave me. We ended the evening with me reading the Bible to her.

That night was one of the last times I was able to have a proper conversation with her. It was also God’s way of healing my heart of bitterness, which paved the way for His love to flow through.

As Lola’s dementia worsened, my family sought the help of a caregiver. But given the pandemic, it was difficult to get one, and all our arrangements with those we contacted fell through.

We had to sacrifice a lot of our energy and time for Lola. We were all working from home, and all our free time went into taking care of her. Since she was bedridden, she needed help with even the most basic of tasks like drinking water. We were left with very little time to rest, and even meal times were disrupted. Lola’s sleep schedule changed. She would sleep while we worked, and then stay awake till the wee hours of the morning, which meant that we couldn’t get the sleep we needed.

The hardest part of loving someone is doing it consistently, especially when you can’t receive anything in return.

It is the kind of love demonstrated by Christ on the cross, extended to us while we were still sinners and hostile to God (Romans 5:8).

Every time I felt like giving up, God would remind me of Romans 5:8. I love your Lola very much, and I gave my Son to die for her. I often told God that it felt impossible for me to show such radical love.

But in the months that followed, God continuously empowered me to show love to Lola. I would read the Bible and a devotional to her on a regular basis, sometimes while I fed her. I would help bathe and dress her up. I took turns with my parents to check in on her in the early mornings.

It was difficult to do all of these on top of attending my online classes. Whenever I got tired, I became easily irritated and would give up explaining things to her. Sometimes I would rush our devotions so I could get back to my work. I got angry whenever she had an outburst in the middle of my online exams.

But whenever I failed, God was patient with me. He would always assure me of His forgiveness when I confessed that I have not acted lovingly towards Lola. God also gave me the wisdom to finish my schoolwork more efficiently so that I could meet my deadlines and still dedicate time to Lola. Each step of obedience I took helped me see how Christ had taken each step toward the cross and persevered to the point of death, out of love for the world and humble obedience to God.

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