My Grandma, the Frying Pan and Me

I don’t remember much about my Grandma. In the mid 1930s, my parents moved from the southeast corner of Saskatchewan to Didsbury, Alberta. 

Through the war years and the fifties, my parents couldn’t afford to travel back to visit family in Gainsborough very often. Letters and the odd phone call weren’t the same as being there and the family lost contact with the passage of time. 

That explains why there was great celebration the day the train chugged into the station carrying my Grandma Lena. My mom had only seen her mom once in 25 years. I was introduced to my real, live grandma for the first time. 

My parents bought an empty lot near our home and moved a small house onto it. A path was soon worn between our place and hers. 

After school, I couldn’t wait to get to her house – probably because she spoiled me rotten. There were always molasses cookies and chocolate milk waiting for me. 

As the months passed, she showed signs of early dementia. When I grew older, it was revealed that was the reason she had left Saskatchewan to come and live with us.  

Her behavior became erratic. There were episodes when she became locked in the past reliving experiences with people who had died long before. 

She would talk to them believing they were in the room with her. It was heartbreaking to know the people lived only in her imagination.  

As she slipped further into dementia, Grandma Lena became aggressive. One day I was playing with my friends when she came raging out of her house brandishing a frying pan. She waved it menacingly and shouted at my friends believing they were bandits who were attacking me. 

My buddies were understandably shaken and made a hasty retreat to the safety of their homes. I was upset and embarrassed. I was too young to understand why she had acted that way. 

I remember my mom coming home one day visibly upset after spending time calming her down from a highly-agitated state. You see, grandma was threatened by a mysterious woman she believed lived on the other side of her full-length mirror.

In a moment of inspiration, my mom came up with a solution. She taped brown wrapping paper over the mirror. The paper trick worked and the woman disappeared as mysteriously as she had arrived. 

Eventually, all knives and sharp objects had to be removed from her house for her protection. Her care had become a full-time occupation that involved every member of our family. 

The day came when she became too sick to care for at home and was taken to the local hospital. Her body began to shut down until she finally found peace and merciful release from the prison of her dementia. 

In 1950’s Alberta, there were no local care centres for those living with various forms of mental illness. Families had two options; care for their loved ones at home or have them institutionalized. 

Children with developmental disabilities were sent to the Provincial Training School for Mental Defectives in Red Deer. Many adults from Southern Alberta were institutionalized at The Alberta Hospital for the Insane in Ponoka

My parents chose a first option for Grandma Lena. I can only image what a different experience our family would have known had a care option like the Rotary Bethany Atrium Project existed. 

It will help hundreds of residents living with Alzheimer’s. Their daily living experience will be radically improved. It will also provide relief for hundreds of families knowing that their loved ones are receiving the best possible care. 


Robyn T. Braley

- Robyn Braley is a Brand Specialist, Writer and Speaker based in Calgary, Alberta