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  • Dami Afam Ade-Odiachi

Grandmama Afam’s got dementia


Home. Lagos. August 2013.

Grandmama Afam’s got dementia. I realise that this is a rather depressing way to begin a blog post, but it is what it is, and we’ve all got our shit. This is some of the stuff in my metaphysical baggage, but I’ll be honest, I don’t think it takes up that much space. It used to. It used to bug me that she didn’t and still doesn’t know who I am all of the time, or that she sometimes thinks that she’s a 16 year old schoolgirl on her way to secondary school, but then I realised that there’s no monopoly on pain. I realised that there were others who were hurting more than I was, GrandPapa Afam lost a wife, friend and confidante, Mama Afam and her sister lost a mother and my siblings and I lost a grandma. In the scale of how strongly the pain should have been felt I was probably second to the last. I couldn’t be a diva about it (well,I was for a little bit). I got on with it. We all have to get on with our shit.


For the most part she’s hilarious. She’s this Jack in the box that comes up with something new every time it pops out. She can go from saying utter jibberish to the picture of grandpapa Afam that she often mistakes for him, to scolding you like you were ten in no time at all. Those are the good days. Anytime she does something that the old her would do, I smile. It’s familiar. I can cope with that. I can forget for a second that she’s going to do the thing, in the thing, at the thing, with the thing, with her father (who’s dead by the way). Or I can forget that she’s running out of diapers and that I’ll need to get some new ones soon.


I’m starting to think that when we age we exhibit the traits that defined us most when we were young. When she was younger, she was a soldier of organisation, and a conqueror of mess. Now, she spends her days, and nights, (she’s a little bit of an insomniac) re-organising her wardrobe, and filching things she believes are hers, but aren’t. Grandpapa Afam’s very different. He’s still got all his wits about him. For as long as I’ve known him he’s had a listening problem. He’s more keen on telling you whatever it is he wants tell you than he is on listening. Now, I don’t even try to interject. Our conversations on the phone are largely one sided. It’s no surprise that he’s now partially deaf. Even though he’s bought himself a hearing aid, he refuses to wear it. So I suppose you could say that deafness becomes him.


In life you have to be grateful for the small stuff. Yesterday, while I was withholding some of my homemade meat pies (don’t be preposterous I didn’t make them) from Grandmama Afam, she said, “I can’t believe that it is you, my child, that is doing this to me” in English. I very nearly died laughing. She hadn’t said a sentence that long in forever! The funny thing here was that it took the deprivation of meat pies to get it from her. And let’s not forget that she actually remembered who I was. She didn’t call me Mister, or Father, or Sir. While she didn’t call me Afam, she called me her child, and that’s preferable to all the other things she’s been calling me lately. Maybe that’s why I’m smiling on a Sunday Night even though I’ve got a to do list longer than my body, and the chances of me catching a wink of sleep tonight are slim.

My grandmother - Ibilola Femi-Pearse, died in 2018. My grandfather - Deji Femi-Pearse, followed her a few months after that. I was a diva about it, but now, just like I did then when her dementia raged, I’m getting on with my shit. I’m really grateful that I have that picture of us. With all the Covid-19 in the air, even if she was alive, we wouldn’t be able to replicate the moment. We wouldn’t be able to hug.


There’s a lesson in this. Be grateful for the little things. We don’t have time for the stress and strife that taints relationships. Love is the bedrock of all good relationships. Don’t hide it beneath the cement blocks of hurt, or the concrete of disappointment. Treasure everything: the last shouting match, the time they made you cry. When you lose someone, you even miss all the ways they hurt you.


Dementia killed her slowly. There was nothing we could do but watch. She hated what it did to her. One evening she sat down on her bed and wept. She only had her eyes to articulate her despair. Her death was not a tragedy. It was a release from the terrors of earth. But how we loved her.


My grandma was born in February. Her last child, my aunt, Yinka David-West, was also born in February. She turned 50 this year. In the month of her birthday, she gave her inaugural lecture as a newly crowned professor at the Pan Atlantic University in Lagos. She recalled how her mother, my grandmother, filled out her Jamb form and picked what she would study. At the time, my aunt was livid that the decision to choose her future was taken from her. In very little time, she came to love it.


Do you know how much love it takes to know someone so well that you can pick the profession that will fulfill them, even when they do not see it themselves?


As my aunt recounted this story at the end of her lecture, she cracked, and her tears drew tears from the eyes of every Femi-Pearse in the building. She lost a mother. I lost a grandmother. How they love us. How we take it for granted.


Happy Mother’s Day

Dami-Afam

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