My grandmother: greater than Tom Hanks

Cast Away

I’ve been thinking of my grandmother a lot these last few days as I look to her funeral this coming Tuesday in Fredericton. She suffered from dementia for the last few years of her life, and it’s a disease I have thought a lot about over the past 15-20 years. She wasn’t the first loved one in my life I’d watched battle it in one form or another. I even chose to write a paper on it for one of my seminary courses.

Sometimes I wonder if suffering from this would be anything like Chuck Noland’s experience (Tom Hanks) in Cast Away. I’m not sure how accurate this theory is, but many believe that Alzheimer’s patients know there’s a problem, which is why they are constantly telling stories from long ago. They’re brain is trying to go back and figure they’re way out Cast Awayof their predicament through recalling their life events, and they’re stuck in those few memories they keep repeating. It’s almost impossible to move forward. Just like Noland who is stuck on that same island for four years—an eternity in terms of being away from home and any civilization.

My grandmother never talked to nor befriended a volleyball, but she did have objects that she consistently spent time with: a photo album, the TV, a book. Was she stuck on an island? Was she ok with being there or was she, like Noland, trying to figure out a way to get off of it? I don’t like thinking about that, though I find it cathartic to do so.

It kills me to think of her experiencing loneliness on that island. She had plenty of loved ones visiting her—that’s not the loneliness I refer to. It’s the loneliness of the disease itself. It also kills me that she’s gone. But I’m glad she’s no longer “stranded.”

I don’t know if I had helped her in any way through this, but I tried to. Here is what I did each time I visited her in the nursing home: I knew she wouldn’t remember who I was, but I would come into the room and exclaim, “Grammy!” With a smile and look of excitement (it was genuine) I would say, “You know your son, Doug?” She would answer, “Yes,” in a tone that said, “I’m following you. What about him?”

“Well, I’m his son Troy.”

“Oh yes. Hm hm hm.”

Cast AwayThen it would start. I would tell her first that she was the best grandmother in the world. Her humour would lead her to joke about me flattering her or something. “Oh no,” I would say. You know all your kids (at this point I’d list a bunch—maybe all—of them). They ALL talk about how great you are!” Again she would laugh and tell me I’m fooling her. “No I’m not. You know your grandchildren?” And I’d do the same. Rattle off a list of my cousins’ names. “Yes, yes,” she’d say. “Well, I talk to them about you. All of them say you are awesome. You know what they say about you?” I’d share memories, what we all say about her cooking, her caring nature, her love for family, her sense of humour… all the things that we love about her.

By this time she would become much warmer towards me than when I first walked into her little apartment. I used all the time there to flatter her as much as I possibly could. Though, I’m not sure if ‘flatter’ is the right word here, seeing as everything I said to her was true.

Often this meant I would repeat myself and she’d repeat herself, but I didn’t mind. I thought this must be good for her, and I sure knew it was good for me. It felt good to tell her these things. I knew she’d forget I’d said them, but I’d be able to say them again the next time I came by.

I won’t tell you if Tom Hanks ever got off his island (I never want to spoil), but I can tell you that Grammy did.

Congratulations Cast Away. This is your week.

And the Oscar goes to…

Best Actress: Anjelica Huston in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Definitely one of the most underrated actresses today, perhaps of all time. She’s fantastic!

Best Actor: Obviously this should go to Tom Hanks or Bill Murray, but I really want to give this one to Willem Dafoe. He is hilarious as Klaus in The Life Aquatic…

Best Quote: I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.” — Irrfan Khan as Pi Patel in Life of Pi.

And here is a little write-up I did in my Grammy’s memory. My cousins are putting together a booklet of writings from different family members for the funeral on Tuesday.

I’m not kidding when I say that going to Grammy and Grampy’s house in Fredericton was as good as going to Disneyland. The 2-hour drive to their place seemed to take forever, but when the scenery started to get familiar, my excitement was difficult to contain. I did have cousins there to play with, but even if they weren’t there my excitement wouldn’t have been dampened. And my grandmother was a big reason for that.

If I learned anything from her, it’s that I’m adorable, precious (Oh, bless your heart!), and funny. And I mean really funny. Like laugh-out-loud and clap your hands hilarious. Whenever we’d arrive at their house I’d walk up the steps (to what I would learn many years later was actually the back door… What? That’s the back door??) and look for her in the window because she was often there doing dishes or preparing food. And I LOVED it when she was there and waved to me. I loved her cooking, which was good because she loved to feed people. Especially family. I loved sleeping in beds she had just made. Somehow they were more comfortable than most beds—I don’t know how she did that, but she did. I loved listening to her talk: stories from the past, explanations of things I didn’t understand, her thoughts and opinions. And she was such a good listener too. I could be 8-years-old and she still looked me in the eye when I talked as if I had something of high importance to communicate. And when I said something she found amazing, she wouldn’t say “Wow,” she would say, “Go away!!”

I loved how much she and Grampy got along so well and were so in love. But I think what I loved most and will miss most is her laugh. Usually it’s her short little laughs that I tend to hear in my head when I think of her. Her laugh was so distinct and so sweet.

To me, her lasting legacy isn’t that she was a Christian, but that she kept close to her heart the most important things that Christ taught. Without a doubt she valued the things he valued: love for your fellow human being and having compassion for those who are hurting and less fortunate. Grammy, I am so sad right now, but I’m so happy for you. Give Grampy, Aunt Vivian and Laddy my love.

Movie of the Week


9 thoughts on “My grandmother: greater than Tom Hanks

  1. This is a beautiful tribute to your Grammy ,Troy .I don’t yhink I’ve read a nicer one . I feel your sadness but also your happiness , she’s off the island and the terrific memories you have to keep forever . Until you meet again .Love and prayers.

  2. Sorry to hear about your Grandma Troy. It’s so great that you have such great memories of her. May God continue to show his love through each generation of your family so there will be no doubt that you are always loved. Blessings.


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