I have fragmentary memories of my grandmother Tsuyajyo and myself during my childhood days, since grandparents’ house was nearby to mine. Five hundred yen coins she kept in a small purse. She used to give them to my sister and I when we visited her. Hide-and-seek in the morning after we stayed overnight at their house every weekend. Japanese pancakes with sweet azuki beans that she bought for us at a department store. These are the kind memories that remembered of my grandparents as a granddaughter who visited a few times a week.
When I was a high school student my grandfather got sick and had to remain in a hospital. Tsuyajyo would spend most of her time keeping him company. When we visited my grandfather on one of his last days, we found him tied to the bed in a sterilizing room after he had attempted to remove a tube attached to his throat. Even though he couldn’t make a voice anymore, he was still trying to move staring at us. I have never seen him like that. “He is not the grandpa you know, maybe you shouldn’t see him anymore” - Tsuyajyo said to us as we kept waiting outside.
In 2009 Tsuyajyo started to have symptoms of dementia. Having a family member with dementia to support was a new experience for my mother. Tsuyajyo could hardly do the basic things including eating, taking a bath or changing clothes. Also Tsuyajyo would often get irrational and angry. My mother would get irritated at Tsuyajyo for becoming less of the person she used to know as her mom. These days continued on for about 2 years. My mother, who wants everything to be organized, unlike myself, was exhausted, and Tsuyajyo would often get temperamental. “My mother should have taken it easier and didn’t have to insist on making grandma’s life so perfect.” I felt sometimes, irresponsibly. “Grandma could have been more relaxed, it could have made them both much happier.”
I lived in Tokyo back then. I would be shocked when I visited her a few times a year as her condition kept deteriorating. I felt that she was not my grandma I had known. How could I imagine she was the person who had shared a lot of time with me as her memory slowly fades. Not knowing how to relate to Tsuyajyo, I waited for my mother as she prepared her food and helped to change her clothes. I could only hear Tsuyajyo and my mother shouting at each other, in a distance. After moving between hospitals and care homes, Tsuyajyo joined the one she stays at now in 2012.
I started “My Recollections” series around this time as well. Tsuyajyo’s condition has stabilized gradually. I don’t hear her shouting or see her being angry as much these days. She often solioquize about Japanese emperor and her younger brother in her village rhythmically. As my mother passed her responsibilities to care givers, she visits Tsuyajyo every few days. I noticed that other residents didn’t get as many visits from their family members, so I sometimes worry that maybe she shouldn’t visit Tsuyajyo so often. Nevertheless my mother visits my grandmother and spends at least half an hour every 2 or 3 days as if was is her duty. “I just wish her laugh once a day.” my mother says.
I returned to my hometown a couple of years ago. I go to see Tsuyajyo sometimes with my mother, sometimes alone. I play with her touching her palms, getting my face up to her face or making strange faces. I am amazed by the way she laughs. I feel surprised when she grips my hand stronger than I expected, saying, “I want to grip your hand strong until my blood pipes burst”. I take notes of what she says to me or tweets. I forget these feelings unless I make pictures or take notes. These memories just slip off from me sometimes. Tsuyajyo, my mother, and us. This is how we are being family. And our days continue.
Mitsu Maeda/May 2015