/ by Whitney Hayward

I have so much to say, but I don't know how to begin.


My grandmother goes garage sale'ing, but almost never for herself, usually to find that one specific thing  you mentioned months ago you fancied. (My mom has a china cabinet full of pink glassware to prove it). She's strong. Opinionated. And full of more love and understanding than I'll probably know.


My grandmother married Wayne before I was born. When I would go over to their house, he'd roll massive slow-pitch softballs down their slanted driveway for my cousins and me to catch. It's funny what things stick with you as a kid.


Wayne has dementia. The diagnosis process, and the subsequent years leading to Wayne being placed in permanent care took everything. No one can truly know when it's right to make that choice to transition into assisted living, or what it takes for a person to say "I can't do this alone anymore." Is it when they take the keys and try to drive, but can't remember how to turn the ignition? Is it when the nursing home calls and says , "he's next up" after years of sitting on a waiting list. The first time they called, my grandmother said she couldn't do it.


Wayne currently lives in the Missouri Veterans Home. My grandmother sold her house to be closer; it's only a 2 minute drive, now. Every single day, she visits him twice a day.


Wayne doesn't recognize her anymore.


Because of how far the disease has progressed, Wayne stays in a locked ward 24 hours a day. He's only able to leave when my grandmother signs him out to go on daily walks.


Wayne lost the ability to speak last month, losing the last 5 words in his vocabulary at the end of September. He still tries to communicate by yelling, which he usually does when looking into my grandmother's eyes.


My grandmother tries to make life for Wayne as similar to what it was before any of this happened.  "It didn't matter where he was, if we were on vacation or what, he always shaved. Wayne always liked to be clean shaven."


"I just know he's in there, somewhere. When he looks in my eyes, he's not looking at my messed up hair, or my teeth or any of that. He's looking at me." 


I don't think my grandmother's story is dementia.  Dementia has taken something from her, but that doesn't prevent her from loving, doesn't prevent her from living her life.  It's hard to ever feel like you're doing someone justice when you photograph them, at least for me. Making these images was probably the biggest challenge I've faced, to portray my grandmother and Wayne how I see them: as two people who love each other.