When Nonna’s memory fails her, she returns to familiar gestures. On a weekend afternoon in winter 2021, she offers me a piece of hard licorice candy, piles of which sit dusty in a crystal dish on her coffee table. She suggests she put on a pot of espresso. Then, she tells me her plight: It’s been five, maybe 10, years since she’s left this house, a bungalow in north Toronto, where she’s spent the past 50 years raising her kids and watching her grandkids grow up. It’s not true, but for an elderly woman whose dementia has advanced rapidly in the midst of a pandemic, it must feel like years of solitude have passed. My efforts at re-explaining COVID-19 never work, so I let us fall into comfortable silence, an Italian soap opera playing on the TV in front of us, before she asks once again if I want a piece of candy.
I see Nonna, my dad’s mother, every few weeks. My visits never last longer than half an hour, because Nonna gets angry when she forgets. She becomes paranoid that there are people in her basement trying to steal from her; when she realizes she’s wrong, she berates herself. My refusal of espressos and candies gives her little to do, and she hates this feeling of immobility. Sometimes I drink her heavy, black coffee, my stomach burning; I know it’s the small things that make her feel better.
As time wore on, the news of my wedding—of my queerness and the happiness it brought—was eventually lost to her illness, too.
There is a common refrain among queer people that, despite Hollywood portrayals and anecdotes in popular media, coming out is never a singular event. There will always be a new colleague or acquaintance or doctor or family friend to whom you’ll have to reveal your identity. It’s a recurring experience often rooted in fear: Will my disclosure make this situation uncomfortable? Or worse, will I be at risk of violence or discrimination? This cycle—of disclosure, then bracing in fear—is my everyday reality as an openly gay person.
But in the 15 years I have been coming out, rarely have I had to disclose my identity over and over to the same person. With Nonna, I have entered a new cycle: disclosure, again and again, constant reminders of the person I am—her granddaughter, a queer woman, a person happy and in love.
My father had dementia and I was his caregiver. Here’s what I wish I had known
In 2007, I was suddenly plunged into the role of caregiver for my then 75-year-old father, who had vascular dementia. His short-term memory was...