When Your Grandfather Can No Longer Remember Your Name


I asked my Poppy to look into my phone while I took his photograph.

I’ve been doing this for years and years now. But he still says, “Isn’t that just unbelievable how you can see it right after you take it?” I respond “Yes, Pop… it is, isn’t it?”

I try to show him the picture in a way he can actually see, so I drag my fingers across the screen so that the only thing you can see is the screen filled with his face, but alas, he still can’t see it.

I wonder if that’s a gift.

I wonder if he could see himself in the mirror he would be sad. Maybe he wouldn’t recognize himself. I wouldn’t want to upset him, so I move onto the next subject.

I realized, throughout the day, he was digging into his pocket and taking out a folded scrap of paper, reading it to himself and then slyly putting it back in, hoping no one saw him. I caught a glimpse, although I would never tell him. In large letters it says:


Really, behind those 3 names were a lot of questions.

…What are my grandchildren’s names?
…Who are these people?
…Where has my mind gone?

He tries to hide the paper from us all the time. I imagine it’s quite a scary feeling to have to pull it out of his pocket so often.

He never said it without eyes full of tears. I am not sure if it was him thinking about his brothers and sister or the times when we all were bundled together in his house on holidays. Or that he missed me during the week when I was at work. Or maybe it was something simple.

What I do know is that when he said he loved you, he meant it.

As a child I found it a little embarrassing because I didn’t know the right way to say it back, it sort of struck me that someone would say it so often. I finally made sure to always say it back.

Now, my brothers and I try to shield ourselves from his state. We say I love you quickly when we leave…we don’t want to linger in case it hurts a little.

Also, sometimes when you linger around for a few seconds two long, things get confusing for Pop. “Where is my wife?” “Where are you going?” “Who are you to me?” “Why aren’t you staying?”

Why had no one told him that his “boys” don’t hang at the bar at 1 in the afternoon anymore? Why hadn’t we gotten food from Busch’s the seafood place where he used to like to eat lots of lobster? (It had closed down). Who was that person that put a note in his pocket, and where was the note? (There was no note after some investigating.)

After a while, I am starting to realize maybe we shouldn’t keep telling him how things really are…instead maybe it is easier to just go along for the ride.

For instance, if he asked where the “boss” was at the bar, maybe I’d say he went to Paris, to take care of his ailing brother. Maybe it’d take his mind off things and he wouldn’t worry about when he was going to show up. Maybe when he says, “if you get tired, I can drive,” now I’ll just say “yes I’ll let you know if I get tired…”

Instead of reminding him of the fact that he can’t do the little things anymore.

Recently, he keeps saying the cops are after him. Telling him they aren’t doesn’t help, because for him they are! I’m still trying to navigate a good answer for that one.

Then, in between the twilight of forgotten memories, there are moments when things almost feel normal again.

He says, “I don’t want to forget the names of the people I love.”

I tell him, for whatever days we have left together, I’m okay with being just the nice stranger that comes around sometimes with a tuna sandwich.