"Ready to play?"

An IM from Elysium flashes on my screen. I'm still collecting myself so I tell him I need five minutes. I go to the bathroom and splash water on my face, staring into the mirror for a moment to examine my puffy, bloodshot eyes. I towel off, Karla is standing in the doorway looking concerned. "You doing OK?"

I kiss her on the forehead, the perfect place for my lips since I'm taller than her and my beard is a bit scratchy. "I'm going to go play some damn StarCraft II. I'm done with this for now." I move past her and slide back into my office and the comfy embrace of my computer chair. I slip my headset on and pop into Ventrillo. Elysium is already waiting for me and I know more friends are on the way.

I ease into the conversation and let myself forget that less than two hours ago I was sitting in my bedroom sobbing.

My brother Jason called first thing that morning to let me know that our grandmother was found wandering through her house at night with all the lights on, totally delirious and detached from reality. Even though she's in her 90's, she's always been sharp as a tack and immune to the usual mental rigors of aging. Knowing she's like this, it's like God suddenly reached down and flipped off her light switch, leaving her in the dark. My aunt is a nurse and she works nights. She found my grandmother talking to herself at 3AM and rushed her to straight the hospital. By the time we found out what was going on, they had been in the waiting room for five hours.

Jason is a stay at home dad these days, so he arranged a babysitter and rushed over to help out. I told him to call me when he knew more and let me know how things were going. I hung up the phone and stared at it, a mad desire to run off to the hospital clashed with a list of work appointments and responsibilities already starting to lean into my day. What could I do? I went to work.

The day sped by as I threw myself into my to-do list and tried to ignore the aching feeling gnawing at my guts. I filled my spare moments with Twitter, the forums, anything I could do to keep my mind occupied. The day was a blur. I stumbled home and collapsed on the couch, waiting to find out where she was and how things were going.

The phone rang. Jason again. They had her in the emergency care area now. Half the time she thinks she's at home in a place she hasn't lived in 15 years. She's seeing things no one else sees. She's trying to leave, they have to restrain her. My heart breaks a little more with every detail, I barely keep it together as we say our goodbyes.

I tell Karla what's going on and beat a hasty retreat to my little meditation corner in our bedroom. I sit down and lean my head against the wall, trying to convince myself I'd made peace with this, that I knew she couldn't last forever and something was bound to give. She's bounced back from dislocated shoulders, blackouts and breast cancer with a smile on her face and a great deal of faith and love in her heart. She's the spiritual matriarch of our family. She's already seen two of her own children, countless relatives and her husband die during her long life. Her faith has never wavered. She says she prays for me every night, no matter what. I believe her.

And now she's lost herself, and it's too soon to tell if she's going to come back.

Everything I'd suppressed in the stress of the day comes rushing back and I can't fight it any longer. Great, sobbing gasps escape my lips as I double over. Karla knocks on the door, asking me if I'm alright. "Not really," I manage. She rushes in and we talk, I unload everything and she listens. The resounding thought in my head is an endless litany. "Not like this, not like this. She doesn't deserve it"

I gather myself and visit her at the hospital, hoping she's already sleeping. She's not, of course. She's mistaking men in other hospital beds for relatives long since dead. She's lucid sometimes, her speech slipping into Dutch more often because she can't find the words she needs to express in English. She knows who I am and in a moment when she knows she's in the hospital and she knows she's not seeing things clearly, she tells me not to be afraid and that everything is going to be alright.

I help her to the bathroom. She smiles and waves at people as we shuffle down the hall, her IV trailing behind her. She hugs her nurse. It's comforting for me, because this has always been as natural to her as breathing. Her nature is love and kindness, even lost in the forest of her own mind; she still finds that in herself and offers it freely to everyone.

I know she'll never sleep while I'm there, she's always too eager to put on a brave face and make sure I'm doing alright and telling me stories. I get up to leave, kiss her wrinkled forehead and tell her it's time to sleep. She nods and lies down.

I get home and check my computer after catching up with Karla. An IM from Elysium is on my screen, asking me if I'm up for a game. I surprise myself and say that I am.

Now that I'd done everything I could, there was nothing left to do but wait and find some measure of comfort in build orders and bad jokes. I don't say a word about it to my friends as we play -- what I need most of all is something normal and predictable. I need to be grounded and getting my ass kicked in StarCraft II while sharing some laughs is a sure way to get there.

Tomorrow is another day.


A wonderful article. Thanks.

Very touching piece, Certis. Hopefully your grandmother will bounce back from this as well, but if it is indeed her time to go, I hope that it is as peaceful as possible.

My grandma has been fading into Alzheimer's the past 3-4 years. It sucks. Some days are ok, some days are far from it. My mom was telling me about one night last week when she demanded my mom take her home. But there they were, at the house she has lived in for 30 years. And she kept insisting that she be taken home that she didn't want to sleep in that place.

Moments like this are terrifying. You do what you can. Show up, visit, talk, whatever. Just be there.

Thanks for the read, Certis. My own grandma is 93, and while lucid most of the time, cracks are starting to show. Your article prompted me to realize I don't visit as much as I used to.

I think I'll do so tomorrow.

My family's prayers go out to you and yours tonight.

I was kind of expecting this to be another Gamers with Kids article...

My grandmother on my father's side is in the slow decline that garion mentions. If it weren't for all the medication she's on, I'm sure she would have already passed on. A stroke rendered her blind in one eye, and she has a pretty tough time of getting around. She has her good days and her bad, but she keeps going the best she can.

On my mother's side, my grandfather passed away rather suddenly about a month ago. My reaction wasn't all that dissimilar from your own. Did some gaming, perhaps just out of a need to keep thing "normal," but I didn't know what else to do.

So I guess all I can say is "thank for sharing, Shawn" and "you aren't alone."

God speed Certis. Its always tough dealing w/ issues like these and age is just a statistic that insurance companies use. Age doesnt matter, especially with family.

Thoughts are with you man!


Certis - truly resonant piece. Seeing our loved ones, especially the matriarchs and patriarchs, this vulnerable can really shake us. My best to you and yours.

My Grandparents passed when I was very young. While I don't have many memories of my Grandparents, it sure appears that you do - and that your relationship with your Grandmother is special. Your Grandmother's faith has carried her through all the years of her life; it will continue to do so in whatever lies ahead.

Having suddenly lost my father when I was age 26, and having slowly lost my father-in-law (who was very much a father to me) when I was 31 - I can unequivocally state that while each experience were very different, both equally sucked. However, during the chaos of those days and moments of despair since... faith has carried me through.

Take a bet on some of that wisdom your Grandmother has developed & practiced all these years - lean on faith. It can & will be a trustworthy companion in the days to come; it will nourish you. And you don't have to be faith"ful" to have faith; the community is always open to new and old players alike.

I hope that writing your article was cathartic for you... I'm sure it wasn't easy to write. I'll be sure to add your family into prayer this evening.

And I'll kick your ass at StarCraft II - if I could just get into the bleepin' Beta!

God Bless.

Great read. My thoughts are with you and your family.

My family tends to be younger than a lot of people my age. I'm 30, but my parents are 52, and my grandmother is only 74, so she's still very much with it, albeit with a few forgetful moments and horrid driving. It'd kill me to see her as you described.

Just remember, even though most of us have never, and will never know you, you have many friends here who would do anything for you.

My best and warmest to you and yours. Alzheimers / Dementia is not an easy disease and my heart goes out to all of your family.

Seeing a loved one go slowly is something that nobody should have to go through, yet it happens so often... I've experienced it myself with my mother when I was barely 20. When a pillar in your life starts to crumble, having the comfort and support of friends can make a world of difference.

Thanks for sharing.

Thank you for this, Certis. Having adult conversations mixed in with generally less-than-serious gaming enthusiasm is a huge part of why I stop in here several times every day.

I can understand exactly the need to briefly retreat into a game, without mentioning your personal trauma to your fellow gamers. My brother died in January of a heart attack. He was only 43. We were very close, and it has been extremely difficult for me. Other than my family and some close friends that would have otherwise questioned my absence when I flew back home to take care of things, I didn't tell anyone. A lot of people still don't know.

Grief tends to wax & wane unexpectedly, and when it gets really hard I find myself retreating into either hard work or complete escape via games. I know what you're dealing with--I experienced very similar things before my grandparents passed away, years ago. It's loss, even if not of the final sort, and grief. The woman you knew may return, if only for a while, and that is reason for hope.

Reading such accounts from other people is really therapeutic for me, for reasons I've never thought to explore. Maybe because it's one of the only ways to share loneliness, to make the solitary into the universal. In any case, I'm sorry. And I'm grateful.

I, like Garion have watched my two remaining grandparents slowly decline due to dementia. I like to think that I am ready for it. I started to detach myself back when I was in high school and almost lost my grandfather due to stroke/heart attack; he was never the same after that (I'm 33 now). In the last 5 years my grandmother has begun to rapidly decline thanks to dementia. In the end I know it will hit me hard, as I haven't lost anyone close to me yet. My fathers parents both passed when I was young and I didn't have the same closeness to them that I have to my mother's parents who have been the pillars of this family.

It's interesting. In the past decade I've watched as my father's parents have slipped into poor health and dementia. My grandmother had a series of strokes and is now in a wheelchair. Years later when my grandfather could no longer help her onto a toilet, they moved into assisted living. Then his mind started to go. He sleeps all the time now. And then my grandmother, the sweetest individual I've ever know, well, her mind has started to go now too. They sit, watching television shows and laughing at what amounts to childish jokes. Not something I ever expected to see from them, especially my grandfather, Hopkins grad and all that.

In a way, I have it easier, I think. Their slow decline was, well, just that, slow. There's no more shock, no more trauma when hearing news about them, just resignation. The hardest part, though, is when you leave the room for more than a few minutes and come back and they welcome you weren't just there. It's a slap of cold, hard reality.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this other than to say I feel you pain and you should listen to her, no matter how it turns out everything is going to be okay.

It's nice to get it out. Thanks for sharing Certis.

My Grandmother has been slipping more and more the past year. Things have gotten the worst since I've moved to Germany, and it's very hard for me not to return to try to help out even though I already know there's little I can do. She'll be moving into a nursing home on Wednesday after getting discharged from the hospital from a broken hip suffered several months ago, and will not return to the house she's lived in since 1954. My father who has been working through this with courage, perseverance, and a great deal of patience, has really shown me what it is to be a great son. I hope that I can do the same for him someday. For now, I call when I know he's dealing with Grandma stuff to try and give him a break from the stress. When I start grinding on the thoughts of my Grandmothers current situation, if I can't talk it over with my wife or any family(usually due to time difference), I grab a book or a game to take my mind to a different place for a time. They stave off the worry and stress, but it's the talking that settles it down for me the best. Again Certis, thanks for sharing. It's not easy, but keep on your best face when you need to and help out your family and they will do so for you in return.

I'm watching my mother enter the middle stages of early-onset Alzheimer's (she's in her mid 50s). She's a very intelligent and very empathetic person. It's excruciating for me not to be able to have much of an adult relationship with her anymore because of her disease.
She's still aware of her disease, and so it seems she alternates between frustrated and embarrassed. As a result she rarely speaks when we're out in public, mostly because she's afraid she'll embarrass herself.
Sometimes I can ignore the disease and have a nice, albeit simple, conversation with her about the weather or her house, or what she did yesterday (if she remembers).
The jarring moments are coming more frequently now however. On our most recent visit home I asked if she'd seen my nieces lately (her twin grand-daughters are a topic sure to put a smile on her face). After she beamed and told me how big they'd gotten and about how they're starting to string words together, she timidly asked me "And how are your … 1, 2 [children]?" My wife and I don't have any children.
Those moments when you see a loved one appear, and then just as suddenly fade away again are scary.
It's been a subject area I've not been very comfortable discussing and I think your thoughts, Certis, along with all the stories that followed have given me the courage to unload a little. Thanks for posting this.

I see your ability to read people's emotions in text translates well into the real world and into reading yourself. A touching article, Certis, thank you. I'm much more of a coward and never revisit any of the things I felt visiting my grandmother in the hospital during her final days.

Very touching piece Certis, thank you for sharing. Know that you have all of our best wishes during this difficult time.

This type of thing is very difficult to deal with. I somewhat understand how it must feel to go through it, since my grandmother was the same before she passed. Games helped me deal with it back then, and games still help me deal with it nowadays. I've had to deal with a few passings this past year, and believe me when I say that I appreciate the temporary escape that games can offer.

I hope all goes well for you, Certis.

My grandfather has been losing to althimzers as well. Its not fun. If starcraft can be a sufficient distraction then give it what you can.

You're in good company, man.

Like a number of other Goodjers, I had a grandparent recently pass away from complications related to Alzheimer's. I was not as close to my grandfather as you clearly are to your grandmother, and I regret that. You are very fortunate to have that relationship.

My thoughts and prayers will be with you and your family.

Thank you Shawn.

Thanks for sharing this event with us.

It's a powerful reminder that games can be used to reach out to someone -- not for escapism, but simply to hear a familiar voice.

Thank you

Like lots of other people who have replied to this, I'm in a very similar situation with my remaining set of grandparents at the moment. They are in more of a slow decline than you describe for your grandmother and I can only imagine the shock at such a sudden onset. I'm trying to organise getting married on quite short notice (August) as I'm very conscious of the fact that they might not be around much longer - I know they will be overjoyed to see another of their grandchildren married and I really want them to be there, both mentally and physically. Having just received an email from my sister to say that they're not doing so well, this one really hit home for me. I wouldn't normally write about this sort of thing, but it feels good to get it off my chest, so thanks for sharing Certis.

You have my sympathy. I hope things work out, to a degree, in the end.

My deep sympathies, too. I have not had a relative with dementia like many others here but I've worked with people who have different kinds of dementia. You don't mention any specific diagnosis here, and I am not a physician and would never presume to even guess at diagnosis on an internet forum, but the sudden onset and some other things you describe makes it sound like it _could_ be something other than Alzheimer's. Maybe something more treatable, but that's what your doctors will tell you. In any case it sounds like you and your family are getting her the care and support from you that she needs.

Whatever the cause, some people have found this book to be helpful to them:

The 36-Hour Day (Amazon link).

I do not want to presume and apologize if this seems pushy. Just something you or some members of your family may find useful at a time like this. Like I say, there could be many causes for what your grandmother is experiencing but this book has some general information and advice, too.

All the best to you and your family.

Thanks for sharing this, Shawn.

Very touching article, Shawn. Hope she gets well.