at 12:35 AM
Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

This article is more than 9 years old.

Gammy can't see me anymore, but every time I visit, she tells me I'm beautiful. Gammy can't hear me well anymore, but she lights up at the sound of my voice. Gammy doesn't understand things the way she used to; the fog of time that's whiting out her eyesight is also encroaching on her mind. At 93, dementia blurs the lines between sleep and wakefulness.

Yet, old as she is, young as I am, she is still teaching me how to live gracefully, how to remain yourself even when much of what you thought you were is gone. Ever since I was old enough to be impressed by someone's intellect, I was in awe of Gammy. Just two decades after women won the right to vote, she'd majored in chemistry at Wellesley, then earned a doctorate in educational psychology.

As an undergrad at Stanford, I'd bring friends over to her apartment, proud to show off how sharp she was, how she read the New York Times cover to cover and never fell behind on the New Yorker. After college, I moved to Central America. At 82, she flew down to visit -- and spent the whole trip learning Spanish.

Five years later, she stepped the wrong way off a curb and broke her hip. In the hospital, that incredible mind started playing tricks. She'd think my long dead grandfather was alive. She'd read messages on the walls the rest of us couldn't see.

For a few years, the growing confusion devastated her -- and, as a result, it devastated us.


"You're so smart," she'd tell me.

"So are you," I'd tell her.

"Not anymore," she'd say.

I wouldn't know how to respond. But, in recent years, her focus seems to have shifted from regret to gratitude. As a result, so has mine. She spends her time showering the people around her with affection and wisdom, even if she's confused by how exactly we're related. And when she gazes at me through unseeing eyes and tells me how beautiful I am, I can't help it. I believe her.

With a Perspective, I'm Jocelyn Wiener.