Do you remember? by Kelly O'Gara and Anna McNeil
Wombat Books, 2015. ISBN 9781925139242
"Do you remember how much we loved each other?" is a strange way to start a story because you would think that two talking to each other would not forget that. But it is the perfect beginning for this gentle, insightful reflection of that special relationship between grandparent and grandchild. Beautifully and softly illustrated using mice as characters, it explores a situation that so many of our students are facing as their grandparents and great-grandparents get older, and forgetfulness and dementia start to take over.
"Do you remember when you started hiding things in strange places?" "Do you remember when you flooded your house?" "Do you remember when you were cross?... You'd never spoken to me like that before. Did I do something wrong?" Such a common experience for so many, but this story has a beautiful twist. Because while Grandma Mouse can't remember, Grandchild can and so she starts to paint pictures of Grandma's stories so that even if Grandma has forgotten, the memories won't be lost entirely. As gradually the grandchild becomes the 'adult' it doesn't really matter that Grandma can't remember because they create new memories and the love that binds them together is the strongest memory of all.
When memory fades to the point where even a child is not recognised, it can be very confronting and difficult to cope with as an adult who understands what is happening on an intellectual level if not an emotional one. Thus it is even more difficult for a child who interprets the loss as personal rejection and banishment and even lack of love. Sharing Do you remember? would be a wonderful way for a parent to help a child understand what is happening and the pointers about what dementia is and how a child can interact with the sufferer regardless are so useful. Little children often fear those who are ageing, especially when they have to move into assisted care and sometimes the visits stop and the relationship wanes - but this book which also gives guidance for parents about how to handle the situation could be the pathway to keeping the love flowing. Helping our children understand by being upfront with them is the greatest gift we can give them and their grandparents.
Speaking from personal experience based on my own grandchildren and their Great Gran, O'Gara and McNeil have nailed it.