One of the things that humbles me most in life is how my mother-in-law’s GRANDCHILDREN took care of her right until she required full-time, round-the-clock care. These busy young people had arranged amongst themselves to care for Nan and did their best. Even my niece’s boyfriend Lee was drawn into this caring circle.

After dementia had gripped her, the grandchildren still took turns.  Once, whilst Lee was asleep, my mother-in-law had crept out of the house, taking Lee’s laptop bag instead of her own handbag. She went missing for close to 24 hours, and lost Lee’s laptop as well as all her money. Along with the police, the grandchildren scoured the county for her. My son Jack went round the streets late at night on his motorbike looking for his grandmother.

When my father-in-law died ten years ago, Jack, then aged 15, took a month off school and moved in with his grandmother.  He made a long list of things to do with Nan, which included social life in the community centre (over-60s aqua aerobics) and selling off Grandad’s things. Jack also made a list of things he would cook for Nan, but as he was quite limited in his culinary skills, the menu list was woefully sparse: bacon sandwich, jacket potatoes with bacon bits, fried egg. But I have no doubt he brought much comfort to my mother-in-law in the first days after her husband, whom she had been married to for over 50 years, passed away.

Loss of her lifetime-spouse hit Mum real bad. She missed him more than we had expected and her descent into dementia began. But whenever she was with her grandchildren, she sparkled. She bustled around them like she used to and the years fell away. I often nagged her to stop fussing, but she actually loved cooking and cleaning up after them, and later, I learned, it was what that had kept her going.

Though she was totally incapacitated physically and mentally in her last years, the grandchildren used to visit her and take her out for long walks on the beach on sunny days, often stopping for cakes and cups of tea, as they used to when they were young and Nan was a very robust grandmother.

My parents are like that too with their grandchildren. My mum never stopped smiling whenever her grandchildren are around. I often have to restrain her from cooking too much, buying too much food. Though my father was grumpy when the children were tiny, he absolutely adores having them round these days. He would bustle around with the drinks, serving his now-adult grandchildren with whiskey, gin, brandy, wine or whatever that takes their fancy, a smile on his face.

My mother still talks about the day my son Kit walked up her path in his full military uniform, carrying a big bunch of flowers for her. She remembers another day, too (which makes this one all the more precious),  more than 20 years ago, that Kit’s FATHER had walked up the same path in a pair of stained jeans with a big smile on his face, to tell them that Kit had been born early that morning. He had come straight from the hospital to tell them the news. My mother says whenever she looks out of her window, she still thinks back to that day.

Photo: my mother with some of her grandchildren