Tuesday, August 3, 2010


We spent the Labour Day long weekend at the cottage with my parents and my grandmother. We had a good time, although the weather was not as good as it could have been. I like hot and sunny...it was more like "warm and hazy, with the occasional cloudy period". Still...the cottage is the cottage no matter what the weather.

Spending time with my grandmother can be difficult. I feel like I don't know her anymore. She is 84 years old and has Alzheimer's. She does quite well physically (other than being legally blind and deaf without her hearing aids), but mentally she is no longer there. She has retained some of funny phrases and is generally quite good natured, especially when surrounded by company and good food. She doesn't wander and she still likes to be of help and can contribute by doing things like sweeping and drying dishes. She remembers some things...but most are lost in the fog of her brain. I think she knows we are her family...but if you asked her my name she probably wouldn't remember. She repeats her self a lot. She worries about things that are small and seemingly insignificant. She is no longer the person I knew growing up.

This is hard, because there are some things I would like to ask her. One of which is about how she survived, and carried on with her life after the birth of her stillborn child over fifty years ago. I don't even know if this child was male or female. I don't know if she had a name picked out, or what the circumstances of the pregnancy, death and birth were. I don't know how far along she was, only that she was 'quite large' and had to birth the dead child. She told my mom about it many years ago...but shared only that it had happened and not any feelings or thoughts she had about the event.

Did she get to hold the baby? Did she think of the baby constantly for months afterwards? What did she tell my dad and my uncle when she came home from the hospital without their sibling? Is the dead baby the reason they adopted my aunt afterwards? Did my grandmother and my grandfather not want to risk another dead baby? Or were they told not to have anymore? Did they have a funeral for the baby? What day was the baby's birth? Were they told by the doctors, by friends, by family to just move on? Did she cry? Did she miss her baby?

Does she still miss her baby?

The two of us were sitting on the deck, looking out over the lake on Sunday morning. No one else was around and we got to talking about children. I reminded her that she had children, two boys and an adopted daughter. And then I said "you also had a baby that died". I wanted to see if she could tell me anything about this lost aunt or uncle of mine.

Her response: "Did I? I don't remember that".

She doesn't remember the baby that died. She doesn't even remember the births of her sons, and as far as I know, never asks about her adopted daughter, who died almost three years ago. Her mind has swallowed up the pregnancy, the death and the birth of the baby who died. It vaguely remembers the daughter who she adopted and called her own for 45 years. She can only remember the living because they are constantly around. If she didn't see us on a regular basis, we would be gone too.

I wish I had known to ask her about her babies, the living and the dead, when she was still well. I wish I had known that it would be important. I wish she had the ability and the desire to share with me the things she had experienced and how they had shaped her. I wonder if she would have shared those memories with me? I want to ask her so many things, but I can't. Maybe there is so much she wants to tell me. But she can't. And never will.


  1. Hello, I am new to your blog, and I love it. I lost my little boy to HLHS at 29 weeks and 1 day. We found out about his HLHS at 28 weeks. Your little Aiden is adorable!

    To comment on your blog... maybe God has that purpose, to have her forgot the pain of her loss for now. BUT, when she returns to the hands of God, she will remember, as her little baby will be there waiting for her. Maybe God's plan is to surprise her with that gift when she returns to him.

  2. Alzheimer's is a terrible, terrible disease. I'm sorry for her, and for your family. I often wonder how other, older women survived babyloss. What they did to cope. How they feel about the whole experience decades later. I'm sorry you won't be able to ask your grandmother about that.

    I'm glad you are able to spend time with her - and that there are still fragments of her personality left.

  3. i went through this alienation through alzheimer's with my grandfather, and i know how hard it is to see someone you love turn into a different person who does not even know you. it is so sad to have family history lost to senility or death just because it didn't occur to anyone to get the details when it was still possible.

    knowing that her lost baby existed and yet that she cannot tell you about it must be so frustrating.

    i'm also glad you get to spend time with her now.

  4. :sigh: that's such a terrible thing, to not remember who you are and what you have been through. :( <3 I'm sorry you couldn't make the connection you hoped for.

  5. It's really sad to know that your grandmother is a baby loss mother, too. But being unable to remember details of her loss now is truly heartbreaking. As mothers who lost babies, we strive to keep their memories alive. But who will do it for us if, like your grandmother, we lose the capacity to remember? It's a good thing we have our blogs to record the stories about our children and how much they are loved and remembered. It's too bad that this tool wasn't available in our grandparents' time.

  6. i'm so sorry you can't find out the answers to those questions emily. i wish you could.

  7. Interesting post, as was your last one about how individuals and society have dealt with baby loss in the past. I think you (and so many others) are making a positive change in our time by sharing your story and making the topic less taboo.