Quietly watching the cars pass by there smiling sat Geneva Lamb Ellis on the deck of her nursing home. A smile rose from those high cheekbones of hers as she rocked back in an old white rocking chair, with the paint that had long chipped off, rocking rhythmically by the sway of her feet. Yes, her cheeks really rose with joy as she saw us. I let out a breath grateful today, after 15 years of fighting with dementia, there were still days she recognized her family. Maybe it was my grandmother, her daughter Janet, acknowledging her, or maybe just maybe she could still recall our faces. Visits like these I will always remember. The way her silky gray hair shined in the sun as I played with the two long cornrows on her head. Every day they seemed to be growing longer than mine. Whenever she asked I would jump at the chance to comb her hair. “Harder,” she would say, as the black tooth comb rubbed against her scalp, and even though it took all my might to comb her hair I would do anything if she asked. And her hands? Holding her hand felt liked being sandwiched into a compressor ( in the good way ). With the way she laced her thick fingers with mine, and held on for dear life. Maybe she was trying to remember who I was, and in her own way let me know her love was still strong as she held my hand. Strong. That is the only word fit to describe her spirit. Still able to walk without holding on to anything, pushing patients who are in wheelchairs around, and pushing a man who wondered into her room, she could do just about anything at her age.
Dementia could not stop the woman she had become after 90 years. Her personality had not changed even though her memories were limited. Her quick remarks would make you think there were still pieces left of her that we were happy to see shine once in a while. There is is one story that always brings a smile to my face when I think of my visits with her. My aunt Danielle upon visiting her, once asked, “do you know my name,” and she quickly replied, “ Shug if you don’t know your own name I can’t help you”. In her own way she had outsmarted my aunt without ever admitting she didn’t know who she was. There are countless days like that with her that I am thankful for. One special instance that I am grateful for is when she met my baby sister Bella when Bella was just 2 months old. After holding her for a while she commented on her beauty.
The next day on our visit to the nursing home, she remembered holding my sister Bella, and said she I remembered holding the most beautiful baby yesterday. She never recalled anything that recently happened. It was rare. Rare is a word that captures her soul. Her countless stories of giving people advice, to telling people the real honest truth, still happened even after she was diagnosed. She never let dementia get the best of her. Nurses at her nursing home laughed with her, and recounted their own stories of little things she would tell them. She was loved, and I know she knew it. Even if she couldn’t remember our names, I could feel that she knew we all loved her. So when I was finished combing her hair, and watching the cars with her. Or after I had finished answering over and over the same question, “ shug, what’s your name?”
I was able to give her a final strong hug. As she kissed my face, making the loudest smacking sound while grabbing my hand for a 20 second hand holding goodbye I smiled. Finally now being able to walk past her rocking chair, out of her sight, and out of her memory for that period of time. I like to think that she’s still there. Just Smiling with those cheeks, laughing, nodding to people she doesn’t know, and just letting time pass as she watches the cars. Though, I know dementia is not something anyone wants to live with, I’m glad she was able to still live with parts of her spirit she had always had even without her full memory. For that, I’m grateful to remember this Geneva Lamb Ellis forever.