Baby Dolls

Travels with Dad

—-This is a story of a complex relationship with my father, Al, who I came to love and understand after he was diagnosed with dementia.—-

Al’s mother, Grandma Mamie, was a born mother-er.  She told me on several occasions that she wished she had the chance to raise her sons again because it was so much fun. To fill the void of not being able to raise her kids again, her grandchildren became the happy recipients of her constant doting, especially the girls.  She only had sons, so it was no secret that the girl grandchildren were extra special.  From washing our hair in beer to make it softer, to making Easter capes for us to wear with our bonnets to Easter mass, there was no mistake of how much she loved her granddaughters.

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Top Row, L-R: Grandma, Mom, Dad
Bottom Row L-R: Brother Vincent, Sister Mary, Me, Brother Paul

When Grandma Mamie needed care for the remaining four years of her life, she moved in to the facility where I worked.  It was a gift for us to be together.  I was in a state of constant awe that I could see her every day.  But seeing her was also difficult.  She had Alzheimer’s, and although she was still Grandma Mamie at her core, she was also very different.  Her world had become very small.

I wanted to create an atmosphere that would make her feel “normal”.  I stocked her closet with the clothes and scarfs that she normally wore, and strived to make her comfortable.  Over time, it occurred to me that she may like a baby doll since she loved babies and children so much.  So one day, I handed her a doll that I had, wrapped up in a blanket, wearing a pretty little dress.  She lit up like a Christmas tree.  Her reaction exceeded my expectations.   I made a big deal out of the baby as she held tightly to her.  I walked away with the feeling that I just spent some time with the grandmother that I once knew.  Her smile was familiar…a smile I hadn’t seen in several years.

Each day, I made sure she had her baby.  At times, I found the baby doll with ice cream on her face.  The staff would tell me that she was feeding the baby her dessert.  Some of the staff didn’t agree with her having this doll.  They thought it wasn’t age-appropriate.  But, they didn’t know her, and I didn’t care what they thought.  I knew the baby struck a deep chord, and she deserved to feel moments of normalcy and love.   The baby doll gave Grandma those feelings.

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She didn’t look too happy in this picture…I think maybe because it was Halloween, and she wasn’t sure that it was I who was all dressed up standing next to her.

When Grandma died, I bought her and the doll each a dress to be buried in.  The baby doll lays next to Grandma her in the casket, looking like the little angel that she was to her.

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The baby doll in the middle is buried with her in that angelic dress. The doll on the left was a back up to the baby doll. The one on the right was my sister’s, given to her as a baby from my grandfather.

During Al’s illness with Alzheimer’s, I gave him doll one day when we were at my house.  I did it mainly to distract him because I had some household chores to do, and he seemed restless.  To my surprise, he received the little bundle of joy the same way his mother did.  He was thrilled to have a little one to care for, and couldn’t stop looking into her eyes.  The doll traveled all over with us, and Al was always gentle with her, providing her with good care and attention.

I felt a lump in my throat, thinking that maybe he felt this way about his own five babies, many years ago.

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Brian, Al with his doll, and Tahoe, our Black Lab.

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13 Responses to Baby Dolls

  1. Gretchin says:

    What a touching story and so lovingly written. I lost my grandmother in the spring of 2012, and there was no greater joy for her than being close to my newborn baby. I wish I had thought to bring her a doll for when we weren’t nearby. I’ll definitely remember this in the future. Thank you for sharing!

    • Diane Fiore says:

      Gretchin, So sorry to hear about the loss of your grandmother. Your story is so perfect about the meaning of the intense connections humans have with babies. I only wish I had a real baby to share with Grandma Mamie sometimes. Your baby must have meant so much to your grandmother.

  2. Feeling a little verklempt myself.

  3. mafarckle says:

    That story is so beautiful and how creative and thoughtful you were and are now.  You are an angel to many.  You touch many peoples’ souls with your beauty and love.  Love, Mom

    ________________________________

  4. Ann says:

    Diane,this,in my opinion,is your most touching,beautifully written piece,yet. Your words actually made me FEEL what it must have been like for your Grandmother and you to share this time and experience.

    The baby doll was a magnificent idea! What comfort it must have have brought to both your Grandmother and Al. It was brilliant! How could your fellow caretakers not have SEEN that? Perhaps they were jealous that they had not thought of it themselves!

    You are a lovely soul!

  5. Maria Wulf says:

    This is so beautiful. You are creative and strong to come up with the idea and defend it. And how open of you to be able to see that hidden part of your father…you made me cry.

    • Diane Fiore says:

      Oh, Maria…I made myself cry reliving this. Then, the weirdest thing happened…I found Al’s doll today in a closet at my mother’s house. I had wondered where it went…thought it was long gone…and there she was, lying comfortably on a closet shelf. Tears again.

  6. Gramma Phyl says:

    Diane, the aides at the home my mom lived in for her last 4 years always had “babies” and “stuffies” for the residents. Many, Mom included, had retreated in a second childhood and at times it appeared that they could only relate to the world around them through the memories these toys awakened. In fact, I even did for Mom what she did for me as a child, I made a sweater for her dolly. She loved it and had to show it to everyone over and over again. When Mom died I told her aide to pass the doll and the sweater to a new “mommy.” Tamika had the perfect recipient in mind and she is a “perfect mommy” for Suzy Doll.

  7. Diane Fiore says:

    Gramma Phyl, I’m so glad for your comments! You described it perfectly…that these memories are so powerful, that it allows people to relate in a way that awakened them. My grandmother’s reactions looked “normal” to me when she had the baby doll. Thanks so much for sharing your insight and experience.

  8. I am catching up on some of your older blogs and this one reminds me so much of my Grandma and the doll she had the last year of her life. She loved her baby doll so much and liked to apply ruby red lipstick to her lips! As always, another great post to read!

    Jackie

  9. Diane Fiore says:

    Jackie, I’m so glad to hear that others thought of giving their loved ones dolls. It seems like it really made a difference in your grandmother’s life. Great!

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