Dear Wilder

A video posted by Matt Raw (@themattraw) on

Your first birthday had some stiff competition, buddy. Nana was here, as the photos show. I’m afraid the photos of the two of you together won’t stir much inside of you, if I’m right about the way things are headed. Your relationship with Nana is the victim of shitty circumstances and bad timing. I’m sorry about that. It’s not fair. Consider this note a companion to those pictures — maybe it can stir something in you that the photos can’t.

Nana’s brain was failing in new and undignified ways while she was here. There were times she couldn’t remember your name. That was a deep fear she had years ago when she found out she had Alzheimer’s, that she’d forget her grandchildren’s names. It’s coming to pass but I was reassured that, in spite of it, she loved you deeply.

Maybe you’re skeptical. You have every right to be. How could she love me if she couldn’t remember my name? Totally fair. I hope you never have to make this judgment for yourself, but you have to believe me when I say that she still knew you, even if she didn’t know what to call you. Alzheimer’s works like that, separating things you would never believe could be separated, like love from names.

Why do I believe she loved you? I believe this because she cried on the phone a year ago when I told her you were here and that we had given you the name of her father, a smart, principled man she admired and loved deeply. I believe that the purity of emotion worked some magic. I believe it punched through and affected a little cluster of neurons in Nana’s brain. I believe a new memory bloomed in the most hostile conditions.

The irony is that a similar memory bloomed in your head this weekend, forever shrouded but for very different reasons. You won’t remember her, but you loved her, too. Your brain lit up when Nana got here and showed an interest in your trusty soup ladle; it fired again every time she sat on the floor and played cars with you, calling you Alex. The two of you shared something special; that neither of you will remember it makes it terribly sad but no less special.

On the morning I flew Nana back to Iowa, we left before you woke up. When you did, I’m told you went straight to Nana’s bed to see if she was awake. You were distressed when she wasn’t there. On the plane, Nana took out her phone and, with an unsteady finger, swiped through a hundred photos of you, stopping at each to zoom in as far as she could and giggle. I hadn’t heard Nana giggle in a very, very long time. That sounds like love to me.

Happy birthday, wild guy. One for the ages.


Wilder and Nana

14 Responses to Dear Wilder

  1. Frank says:

    Nobody can really control results with something like grandparenting, but we can all control the effort we put in and the determination we muster to accomplish the things that are important to us. That dedication and strength of will is so obvious in this visit. Definitely a memory to look back on proudly.

    • Matt says:

      Thanks Frank. We’re pretty grateful for the opportunity. There were a lot of little factors that had to align just right to get mom here, not the least of which was her husband (and caretaker) seeing the possibility and pushing to make it happen.

  2. Scott Drzycimski says:

    Your writing always impacts me, you have that gift. But this one dug in deep. It’s hard to see Nana…Mom…Aunt Nancy failing.

    Know we are here for her, you and Katy.

    What an opportunity for her to interact with Wilder. One you won’t forget. My favorite photo of Faith as a baby is in Grandma’s arms as she sang to her. Faith will never remember the moment, but thanks to my stories, she will know the importance of that photo and the woman who held her. In that comes great comfort.

    Thanks for opening your heart and sharing.

    • Matt says:

      Scott, that’s an incredible memory, thanks for sharing. I don’t think I’ve seen that photo, but I can picture it so clearly!

  3. Cory says:

    This is stunningly beautiful Matt. My grandmother had Alzheimers and died when I was 8, but I didn’t see her for a year prior to that because my mom was trying to shield me from realizing that she could not remember my name. The way you captured the depth of love in your writing, past this horrible disease, is just lovely. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    • Matt says:

      Thanks Cory, appreciate the note. Hope all is well with you, I’ve enjoyed the updates I’ve seen on Facebook :)

  4. Michelle Elam says:

    Please continue sharing such teachings of Nana. She has been a very dear friend and I know family has always been her priority! Pictures and videos will be such an amazing gift for Warren. Bless all of you as you travel down this “shitty” road and know that Nancy is in the hearts of many.

  5. Julie says:

    Hi Matt, I’m Julie. I am your beautiful Mother’s Step-son Aaron’s, girlfriend. I live across the river from your mama and tho I don’t see her as often as I would like, I share with you her lovely spirit. Her kindness. I love gathering her gardening tips, looking at her photography. I know that spark you mention about Nanners (that’s what I call her! ). I see it when she speaks of her grandbabies and you all. I just spent Saturday with your Mom, your Aunt Sue, Cousin Tammy and Jim on our pontoon at the lake. She took pictures, enjoyed a dip in the water with us and enjoyed the beautiful sunshine! And when we were all too pooped to continue on, Nanners was ready to go out for dinner! And they did! Yay! See I know the pain you feel. I see what this totally shitty disease is doing to your mom and unfortunately it is doing the same to my Mom Linda, also a beautiful soul, being robbed from names but not love. I really appreciate you putting it that way. Thank you for sharing your blog. We’re in this together.

    • Matt says:

      Julie, I’m way behind in my replies, but thanks so much for this comment. I’m sorry to hear you’re in the same boat with your mom, but I agree, it’s good to know you’re not the only one, right? Thanks so much for everything you do to look after Mom, it means a lot to us that she’s surrounded by so many people she loves in Iowa.

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