Sylvie's Grandad Owl sitting on a bench

'This “dementia” was about to tear my grandpa from my reach and keep him lost in his forgetfulness'

Sylvie is a 16 year old student living in Scotland. She wrote a heartfelt essay, titled Forget Me Not, about her granddad's earliest signs of dementia. We have posted Sylvie's essay unedited and exactly as she sent it to us.

Forget Me Not

A tribute by Sylvie, aged sixteen

I’d never had a granddad but that was to change when I was six. My grandmother, widowed before I was born, surprised us all with the sudden announcement that she was getting married. I found it hard to imagine her as a bride in a wedding dress and even more difficult to imagine a whole new grandparent by her side.

Having had no experience of a granddad, I had only a very stereotypical idea of what one would be like - a kind, slightly tubby old man with grey hair, puffing on a pipe and wearing brown slippers - after all, this was the granddad figure that was depicted in my story books. 

The first meeting was arranged and I realise now that he was probably rather nervous about meeting us whereas I was just interested in a promised trip to the local park which almost always had an ice cream van. When the doorbell rang I was taken aback to see a tall handsome man standing there. He had white hair that was neatly combed into place and a gentle face with twinkly blue eyes that promised mischief. He wasn’t wearing the brown jumper with elbow patches that I’d expected but was dressed in a button-down blue shirt and smart trousers much like my dad might wear to work.

This new granddad did not behave like a granddad either. To my amazement, once at the park, he launched himself down the slide and was first in line for an ice cream. 

Sylvie with Grandad Owl in the garden

Grandpa and I doing a word search in the sun

As I grew, so too did our affection for one another. Rather than taking on the traditional role as grandparent he became instead my friend. Before retirement he had been an accountant. You would have thought that being responsible for other people’s money meant you had to be serious but he had never grown up; he was a big kid.

In the hallway of his house was a large hamper and one afternoon I had opened the lid expecting it to be full of uninspiring things like blankets. Instead inside was a huge collection of polar bears! Each toy was different and had been carefully named by him. I remember him taking a childish delight in throwing them head first down the stairs. He reasoned that, “They wanted to go sky diving!” Every so often, for a change, he’d tie one to a long piece of elastic for a spot of bungee jumping over the landing.

Whenever I was told that we were going to visit I would run straight to my room and find a good pen because we would always sit down and do word searches together or play on our matching Nintendos. He was no ordinary granddad – he was unique.

As I got older our conversations became more and more interesting and he would often talk to me about his past. He told me how he had learned to read at an early age and would sit and read aloud from the newspaper to his parents when he was just four. He was disappointed when he finally started school to be given books with no more than a few simple words on each page. In the house he shared with Grandma almost every room was crammed with books.

The garage had been converted into a library but even then a separate cabin was built in the garden for the overflow. My Grandma told me that there were over 10,000 books, some of them rare first editions.

My sister and I decided he must be very wise and so gave him the name “Grandpa Owl” after the wise old owl in Winnie the Pooh.  He lived up to his new nickname and never tired of my questions; he was the perfect person to go to for help with homework.

I had no idea that Grandpa Owl, who always had all the answers, would one day begin to slip away from me. 

Sylvie's Grandad Owl with his books

Grandpa Owl studying in his library

It started with a simple question. One summer afternoon he asked me whether I wanted a cold Sprite. Of course, I said yes but the minutes ticked by and there was still no sign of the promised drink. I went to investigate and peeking into the kitchen I saw him staring at the can puzzled. I asked him whether he was okay. He slowly shook his head and said he couldn't remember how to open it. I was shocked. I didn't understand. I opened it for him, laughing it off, but from that point on I began to notice other things that he forgot – places he’d been, his pin number, the way home... 

Later I overheard my mum on the phone talking about a thing called “dementia”. This “dementia” was about to tear my grandpa from my reach and keep him lost in his forgetfulness. More and more of his memory was locked away - names, places, the days of the week and even how to get dressed and how to eat. I watched helplessly as he would stand very still willing the right words to come out but often what he said made no sense at all.

Gradually the ties that connected us so tightly became loose. Grandpa couldn’t remember what a Nintendo was or how you might use it. The books stayed on the shelves collecting dust and I was left to do the word searches on my own. Only the polar bears remained as part of our games though even they had to adjust to a less adventurous lifestyle. I had to learn to treasure the little things such as when I would tickle his toes as I’d gently place his slippers back on the right feet. 

Sylvie with Grandad Owl on a beach
I wanted to show him this really cool shell I found

My last visit was to the care home. He had gone to live there when caring for him had become too much for my Grandma. Despite its soft furnishings, and the carers in blue uniforms efficiently bringing tea, it didn’t feel homely. I remember feeling afraid that he would not know who I was, but though he was very frail, and seemed to have shrunk, he looked up straight away and smiled directly at me. He couldn’t recall my name, or remember exactly how we were connected, but in the still handsome blue eyes there was the flicker of recognition.  

“Hello, Grandpa Owl,” I said simply and I sat down on the edge of the bed with his favourite polar bear safely tucked up between us.   

Sylvie has started a blog called Every Cloud Has A Sylvie Lining. Be sure to subscribe and receive a notification each time Sylvie publishes something new to her blog.

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42 comments

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Thank you for publishing this account by my Grandaughter Sylvie. It is beautiful. He was a very special man. This is a great encouragement to go on praying for research and support for all those who have loved ones with this terrible affliction.
Sincerely, Olive Tribe .

What a lovely piece Olive. X

This is so beautifully expressed, Olive. You must feel so proud of your granddaughter and the special relationship she had with Alan. It certainly brought back my fond memories of him getting down on the floor to play with Robert, genuinely wanting to spend time having fun with him and the other children at Coffee Pot. he was a gentle soul who was completely adored by us all, and i will never forget him. Incidently, I now work in a care home so have completely empathy.

This is a beautifully written piece. My mother has just passed away, in her care home, where she was well looked after for four years. Alzheimer's and dementia robs not only the person affected but the wider family too. The work of the Alzheimer's Society is invaluable.

This is lovely, and reminds me so much of
how my Dad was (very clever, read a lot, twinkly blue eyes) and how he is in the care home- not sure who we are or how we’re connected. It’s cruel how dementia robs us of our loved ones before our very eyes.

Lovely writing from Sylvie - he does sound a very special man and she a very special girl. I agree we need to keep supporting those researching this devastating disease. X

So beautifully written. X

So touching Sylvie, beautifully realistic.

This is such a beautiful and moving piece of writing. Clearly he was a wonderful man and he has a wonderful granddaughter.

Hello Sylvie
You share a beautiful and heart touching memory of your grandpapa with this blog. It seems real and pure feeling.

So beautiful. Such a wonderful man.

Just wanted you to know Sylvie that your beautifully written tribute to your grandfather has reached Australia and touched this writer and former English teacher! You write with such empathy and understanding, and allow your readers to share in the wonderful relationship you enjoyed with your grandfather. I particularly liked the contrast between what you expected of a grandfather and 'what you got', as well as the antics of the polar bears! I found myself picturing the polar bears in full flight, your childish excitement and your grandfather's twinkling blue eyes!
Well done Sylvie. Please keep writing...

Thanks Sylvie for sharing your feelings for your Grandfather. I myself am going through the same emotions for my husband He too was such an active person but now Dementia has set in Thank you again as your blog has strengthened my feelings towards my loved one

thank you Sylvie. my dad has vascular dementia and is currently still at home having care calls every day. it is a painful disease watching him slip away into his empty space. he was such a clever, funny ,loud, knowledgable man and I often say to his carer I wish you had known him when he was well. he is a shadow of that man now and all we can do is continue to keep him comfortable, safe and loved. I think very often relatives feels isolated living with a dementia patient but it is comforting to no that we are not alone... thank you again for your blog xx

Thank you for sharing this Olive, a lovely reminder of a very special man. And written with such love by Sylvie.

It brought tears to my eyes. All so recognisable alas but beautifully written. My wife died 4 months ago from Alzheimers and I found this account very moving and so accurate.

A very real and genuine piece of writing. I love the fact that this is an example of how the young and old can be friends together; learn from each other and provide support.

Thank you for writing this. He was very lucky to have someone as wonderful as you in his life.

Bob Kimberley says
15 February 2019 at 9.15 pm
My wife and I recently completed 57 years of marriage. As a student she got a degree in Maths and was brilliant pianist. She often played for the singing at church. We first met at a Rifle Club when I helped her a little. She won prizes with a pistol. She also led me in to an active church. Now can't leave the house, or walk or talk.

What a beautifully written article and provides such an insightful account of sharing a life with someone who is living with dementia. Reminds me of my young daughter's experiences of being with her grandma - who had dementia. Thank you for sharing this.

I can completely empathise with Sylvie. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2010 at the age of 89 and has been in a Care Home since December 2017. She was a nurse and a midwife and a farmer's wife. She was always very active and involved and after the death of my father and my brother in 1992 took up art (painting), mostly water colours. She was really good at it and painted over 50 paintings. Now she is 98 and still paints but not to her former standard although she still has an eye for colour. She is able to recognise me and always enjoys my husband going to see her. She is cared for by amazing staff at the Care Home, one of whom was her granddaughter (my daughter) when she went there. She does not always make sense with what she wants to say and is now very deaf so finds it hard to communicate. This I find very difficult as she is no longer the alert and forceful person she used to be. I feel as though I have already lost my Mother.

Sylvie's granddad seems to have been an amazing person. A granddad I would have liked to have had. I didn't know my father's father and my Mother's father died when I was 3.

So touching and heartbreaking but thank you for sharing this with all of us who have lived through similar stories with that very special relative who means everything to you.

What a lovely account of a beautiful friendship.
My Dad has dementia and myself, two children and Mum are all trying to do our best for him. It is very hard for him as he is in a care home and unable to walk or get his words out but he still recognises us and always has a twinkle in his handsome blue eyes when he sees us.....he was a Granddad just like Sylviie's, there was always lots of fun and laughter whenever he was around.
Bless you Sylvie.

What a wonderful gift this granddaughter has, beautifully written story. Thankyou so much.

I lost my father in law to dementia,to watch a man so fit so active was horrible and know how olive felt. Lovely written piece.

What a beautiful story from. Sylvie for her lovely grandad I lost my loving dad who had vascular dementia and I was and still am heartbroken. We should all just love one another and enjoy every moment we can with our families take care sylvie.

Im a volunteer after retiring from dementia care after 15 years, I am now supporting in the community, I’m wondering where the support is for early onset, my family is struggling their relative is 53

Hi there, thanks for your comment.

Sorry to hear that your family has been struggling with their relative's diagnosis.

Is there a particular kind of support that you're interested in? In the first instance it may be worth looking at our Dementia Directory to see if there are any relevant services in your local area: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/find-support-near-you

You may also want to call the National Dementia Helpline to speak to a Dementia Adviser about your family's situation. The team there will be in the best position to point you towards relevant support and services for people living with young onset dementia. You can find the helpline details here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline

I hope this is helpful,
Alzheimer's Society blog team

My mother did not live long eniugh fir dementia to have set in completely but when she was 83 or so my brother Gavin came to visit us from Canada. She gazed at him when he arrived and went to kiss her. "What are you doing here Michael" she said (Michael was the son of a local friend). Gavin left the room, looking as though she'd hit him. This was a wonderful and moving account of the sorrow for the family. Thank you.

This is so beautifully written and brought tears to my eyes. So many People will be able to relate to your story, And it’s important to understand how the younger members of the family feel in this situation. You should be proud of yourself for being such a wonderful granddaughter xx

This is so true , my mum and two sisters had this horrible illness ,

What a beautiful piece written, thank you Sylvie for sharing such special thoughts and moments to treasure.

Your piece made me think of the relationship with my sister who has dementia and how it has impacted our relationship and shared history. An excellent piece that bought tears to my eyes and also joy at how you have salvaged treasured memories from this debilitating condition

What a moving and well-written account of the wonderful bond between a granddaughter and her grandpa Owl - he was an amazing man -even more so as she explains he was a late addition to the family!

He may have gone now but what a legacy of memories and talent he has left with Sylvie- her life will be so much the richer for having known him! Thank you for sharing their story.

As a granddad and GG dad myself and my life share partner has Alzheimer's this brought tears of sadness and joy, beautifully written x

This website is very good but seems to be focused on the families of people with Alzheimer's. I have recently learnt that I have inherited the family Alzheimer's although it hasn't really got going yet and I haven't, so far, had to make changes to what I am doing. It would be good to share with others in a similar position.

Hi Sue, thanks for your comment.

Sorry to hear about your diagnosis - were you looking for any particular kind of support?

We have a range of publications and information focused more towards people living with dementia - it may be helpful to look at this page and scroll down to the subheading 'living with dementia' to see what is available: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/publications-factsheets-full-…

The Dementia Guide is a good publication to look at if you have been recently diagnosed - it covers a lot of the main topics that might be relevant for you. You can download it or order a copy for free here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/publications-about-dementia/the-dementia-…

We also have a Dementia Directory where you can enter your postcode and find support in your local area. If that sounds like it would be useful, you can try it here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/find-support-near-you

It's worth knowing that you can also contact our helpline at any time for information, advice or emotional support. One of our Dementia Advisers will be best placed to provide support tailored to what you need: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline

I hope this is helpful - if you have any other questions please let us know or contact the helpline.
--
Alzheimer's Society blog team

My name is John,and am a father to 4 wonderful grown up children,and 5 special grandchildren.I lost my mother,Nan,in June 2003.She had Alzheimer's,and had started to forget my name,mistaking it for my younger brother.At first I corrected her ,telling her that I was John ,and not Brendan(my brothers name)Being a very worrying and unknown illness to myself and my 7siblings,we sought professional and medical advice as to how to help our mum.They we're terrific,and educated us as how to help our mother,as she was totally unaware of her illness.She was locked inside it.It is a horrible illness to endure,watching our beautiful mother losing her independence and spark of life.It was also very very hard for my father Sean to watch his wife of 50+years slowly forget all of their formative family memories.They were the most wonderful parents,grand parents.and great grandparents that anyone could wish for.But Alzheimer's sufferers families need support too.They have the burden of having to have to support their loved ones through their own illness,but also need the back up of a wonderful organisation like the Alzheimer's society to fall back on for support.Lets all hope that a lasting cure can be found for this terrible illness,and to all of you dealing with Alzheimer's to a friend or relitave,I send my love and support.

So touched by Sylvia's story.I lost my mum in 2003 to Alzheimer's,a terrible illness.But I strongly believe that careers of Alzheimer's sometimes don't receive the emotional support needed to enable them to cope with the highly emotional circumstances in which they find themselves.Thank goodness for the Alzheimer's society.My love and support to you all.

Oh, Sylvie! What a beautiful and poignant piece of writing; I can only imagine how proud your wonderful Grandpa Owl would have been that you captured the uniqueness of your shared bond in words. My own father was very much of the owl variety and much of what you day resonates deeply- although it was my mum who developed dementia.
I’d love to think that your blogging might become a book which could be sold to further research into this cruel disease and to fill the shelves of other libraries in other homes.
Thoughts and prayers with all of your family.

This is sad but true you never no when you are going to be touched by demencia.

Sylvie this is a beautiful and sensitive piece of writing showing the wonderful relationship you have with grandpa Owl. Thank you for sharing it.

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