crazy stuff,  Family Matters,  Life Lessons

Dealing with Dementia: My Grandpa and his crazy story.


My ninety-two-year-old grandpa fell and broke his hip last week. He was just out walking/hobbling in the garden area with one of the nurses from the assisted-living home that he resides in and he took a fall. Nobody knows why exactly but unfortunately there was a good bit of time between his fall in the afternoon and when he was actually taken to the hospital via an ambulance.

My mom stayed with him all night in the ER waiting for him to be admitted. He was finally admitted and put on pain-killers sometime in the wee hours of the morning. I’m sure it was horrible for him. My mom called me several times and I could hear crazy people wailing in the background. Somebody was drunk, somebody else over-dosed on drugs. It was a crazy night in the ER like usual. My poor old grandpa.

When I went to see my grandpa the next day in the hospital, he was pretty high on morphine. But he’s been slipping in and out of dementia for a while now. Last week I went to visit him and he was in tears trying to tell me a story that was so important it could change the world, he said. It took him forever to get the story out and when he did it wasn’t really a story at all. But I’m going to share it here because I promised him I would.

He has this painting (or photograph, I’m not sure. It’s a reprint) on the wall of an old man praying over bread. It’s a very popular picture and has been around for ages. (Google tells me it was taken by a photographer in Minnesota in 1912). My grandpa has talked about this picture many times before but lately it’s taken a new twist.

When he was in the service back during World War II, he was in London and had dinner with a man named Old Brother Ball who looked exactly like the man in the picture. Same hair, same clothes, same bread, the book was a bible and in the bowl was something he called mutton which was like lard. My grandpa remembers having dinner with Brother Ball and he took a knife and spread the mutton on his bread. Grandpa says the mutton was horrible tasting and turned his stomach. He smacks his lips in disgust and tells me that he can still taste it to this day. “Disgusting stuff.”

Anyway, my grandpa is now convinced that this picture is actually of Old Brother Ball and nobody in the world knows this. He desperately wants to tell the world that the picture isn’t a mystery anymore. The man’s name is Brother Ball and he lives in London in a town called Rickenberry (I didn’t write it down so I have to double check this because I have no idea what town he was talking about.)

Before he always told the story as if the man in the picture looked a lot like his old friend but now he’s convinced it is Old Brother Ball and it’s my job to tell as many people as I can. Maybe we could even make some money off the story, he says, which is just like him always trying to find a way to get rich quick (it runs in the family). Over and over he frets, Do you think we can do this? It’s such a big story. We have so little time. Can you print it? How many copies can you make?

In the hospital he must have seen on television that there was a ballgame this weekend and he was adament that I get the story printed in the newspaper and hand deliver it to the ball game attendees. I kept telling him over and over that I could put it on my website and thousands of people would read his story. (I exaggerated slightly for his comfort.) He’d pat my hand and thank me and then one minute later he’d start over again.

It was crazy-making. I started putting my story-telling skills to work and told him big fat yarns about how I would print the story two-up at Kinkos and then stay up all night long rolling the half-sheet flyers inside newspapers. Maybe I’d even set up a table and hand out free cups of coffee with the newspapers. His story would get out I assured him. I’m sure his hospital roommate was thoroughly amused/confused about what was going on.

It was so hard. I wanted to comfort him but the distress just wouldn’t go away. I’d convince him that his story would get out and he’d calm for a few minutes and then start up all over again. Do you really think you can do it? It’s so important. We have so little time. Maybe you better go and get started right now.

So finally I did leave. I told him I’d come back in the morning and show him the printed story. I figured I’d just print out this blog post and hope he didn’t have his glasses on, which have been lost for a few days anyway. I don’t know if he really knows how much time is passing. It seems like he is in a perpetual state of the last five minutes.

The good news is he had hip surgery last night and he came out of it like a champ. My dad said he was more lucid than ever. He knew who was president. He wasn’t talking about his story or the ballgame at all. He was happy to see my dad and just wanted to get some rest and see everybody later. So who knows, maybe he’s got a few more years left in him.

Grandpa in the hospital

I just hope they’re good years. I’m so happy to have him still with us. I love him so much but I don’t know how long I can go on making up stories about making copies at Kinkos and handing them out at ballgames. But I’ll do it because someday somebody is probably going to do it for me. Or at least I hope so.


  • a chris

    I don’t know what to say: it’s a hard situation for him and those who love him. I do hope I’m in my nineties and on morphine before I need as much understanding from my loved ones as you showed him here.

    I think can see a resemblance between your Grandpa and your Dad! In the eyes especially.

    I wonder where he got that about mutton. Mutton is meat from (adult) sheep. The modern palate far prefers lamb, though, based on how much of each I see on supermarket shelves. Mutton is very strong tasting, I hear, and quite tough.

    Then there’s Marmite, which is another thing a lot of Brits like but that a lot of others don’t. It’s some sort of yeast product that people DO spread on bread.

  • Hotrodhanna

    I’m sorry! : / It must be hard to see him that way. Glad he came through the surgery ok. Morphine really messes with the mind. I had a great aunt that would come up with some crazy yarns, but she was on it for years. When dealing with people with dementia- it is their world, and you are just visiting. You can’t talk them out of it or reason with them, whatever they are talking about is as real to them as you are. So, I learned to go with it! Sounds like you did great! It will get harder though. It is a lot like playing pretend with a child. Step into their world, and enjoy them there.

  • Madge

    I hope a lot of his angst and confusion was morphine induced. It very well could be!?! My mom had surgery many years ago and she was on a morphine drip and HIGH AS A KITE! She told us all sorts of stories and her moods would change from second to second.

    I’m so glad that you were there to comfort him. Grandparents are so special.

  • Christine

    To add to the mutton conversation: I thought it might be “dripping” from mutton – that is, lard made from the fat that dripped off mutton as it roasted. “Bread and dripping” is something my Dad would have eaten as a child, in wartime England. (My Dad is 81.)

    I’m so sorry your Grandad has dementia, but at least it only comes and goes. At his age, that’s pretty good. I hope his hip heals well and he stays clear and lucid.

  • Susan Hahaj

    What a blessing you have had so many years to enjoy such a great character as your Grandpa! He has fetching stories to tell, I’m sure he entertains everyone! You can see the sparkle in his eyes! I had to share your link on my Facebook, I thought it was so well written and it made me smile to think he has so many important stories to share still! You’re a lucky Granddaughter! Suzie


    Grandparents are such a gift… My maternal Grandfather did a similar thing with a story in his last year or so with us… He was a wild little boy who rode his bicycle like the wind (per his story) and was a bit of a terror on wheels on his street. Those were the days the sidewalks were wooden in the places that they had them, and most front yards were fenced with gates. One of his neighbors had a number of outdoor cats that were mostly ferrel and one cat in particular had it out for him… Anytime my grandfather got anywhere near this cat , the cat would try to scratch him. So this cat’s favorite place to hang out was on the fence post and considered attempting to attack my grandfather great fun… then one day he did attack – apparently jumped right on my grandfather’s back almost causing him to crash his bike… This is as far as the story ever went, and my grandfather would start it all over again… didn’t matter what questions I asked, he’d just start over at the beginning and I’d sit there like I’d never heard it told before… It made him laugh – I hope your Grandpa’s next story isn’t one that worries him, but one that makes him laugh. I know I don’t have to say it, but enjoy him while he’s here. :)

  • amy

    Also hoping he has a few GREAT years ahead of him :) You are so lucky to still have him. My last grandparent left us some 8 years ago..

  • vero

    this is so touching. you’ve brought tears to my eyes and seeing the photo of your grandpa makes me want to give him a big hug.

  • Dawn

    Bless his heart, and I’m so glad the surgery went okay. It is so difficult to watch the ones we love lose their abilities. I am to the point in my life where all of my grandparents have passed, and I especially miss my grandmother. Hold them close, as I know you will. Also, I see so much of Bug in your grandfather’s eyes!

  • Ninabi

    “It seems like he is in a perpetual state of the last five minutes.”

    That is the most apt description. All you can do is go into his world as he sees it and go with the flow. I’m glad your grandpa is getting pain medication (despite side effects that older people) and that he is surrounded by family that loves him so much.

  • Jackee

    This story hit home to me, and really spoke to me. I’ve been working all week at getting my mom into assisted living (against her will) cause she’s not eating, not showering and changing her clothes etc.)
    I’m so stressed out I can’t see straight. and I’m trying to work at work, but mostly I’m worried about her. Hug your grandpa for me, and hug your mom too.

  • Peggi

    What a sweet story of love and patience. I like to think about the irony of it – when you were very small, he probably spent hours answering questions and telling you stories over and over again. Now here you are doing it for him, and both of you were motivated by the same thing – love.

    I consider myself very lucky because my grandparents are young. They are the same age as my in-laws. I’ve been able to know them through both a child’s eye and as an adult. One of my favorite memories is watching my children pump the foot pedals of my grandmother’s player piano. My grandparents, who have been married over 60 years, have grown too weak to operate it, so they haven’t heard the music in years. The joy and happiness my grandparents felt as they danced together to music from their youth was amazing to watch. I will treasure those memories forever.

  • Elizabeth

    Just wanted to let you know that morphine, as well as anesthesia from surgery, and even being in the hospital itself, can often induce temporary dementia in older people. I have seen that happen to my mom several times and she has emerged from it after some time. Your grandpa may also have some more permanent dementia from age, but likely some of this is induced from a combo of the morphine and anesthesia (which are both strong, strong things), and being in the hospital itself. Best to you and your family. And bless you for treating his story seriously — you are a kind granddaughter.

  • Jess

    My grandfather went through that, too. Not fun for anyone involved. Just FYI – his more out of it/crazy times coincided with bladder infections. (Dementia kept getting worse, but just the big jumps of out-of-it-ness were signs of the infection.)

    When my kids came to visit (which he loved – had no clue who they were, but still enjoyed them) I gave them a heads-up that he had a hard time knowing if he is Before his dementia kicked in, he was pretty quiet about that stuff. awake or still sleeping because the stories in his head (dreams) seem to be real to him. Since my daughter’s familiar with having nightmares and not being quite sure what’s real when you first wake up, she could totally relate to him. My son was little enough not to care.

    One nice thing was that I got to learn about his life before I was around – when he was telling me about his life during the war and my Mom when she was little. We’re sending hugs to you and your family.

  • OMSH

    My grandmother died of Alzheimer’s and I remember the very last story she told me. She was describing a painting she did, not realizing I was one of the girls she painted into it. She told me all about myself and my cousins. Later that night she passed away so it was very, VERY precious to me…the memories.

  • Donna

    Your grandpa is so cute! Maybe the drugs were helping things along a little. Here’s to a longer life for him!

  • cath

    Hi Brenda, here’s hoping your grandpa is on the up and up and that he smiles that wonderful smile at you for many years to come. I’d be more than happy to put his story into a newspaper mock up for you if you wished. I mocked something up like this before, and it wasn’t too difficult. We could make it an out of the way paper, so long as i could get a scan of one of the pages, or the front page.

  • Kuky

    I think it’s very sweet how much you care for your grandpa. I only have one grandparent, my grandmother, and I rarely see her.

  • Beck's Mom

    Dementia is tough! On everyone!! Our dad did similarly – particularly exacerbated after watching TV in the hospital (which he didn’t watch at home). Being musically oriented, DVDs of Christian Southern Gospel performances were very helpful, and highlighted his profound connection with the Lord.

  • gingermog

    Hi SAJ,

    I am so sorry to hear your grandfather has broken his hip, as other people have commented it sounds like the combination of morphine and shock confused him further, my father had similar experiences when he broke his hip. I have also read that when your break a bone “something” (I forget the word) can get released into the blood stream that can confuse you as well.

    London is divided into lots of areas and boroughs but I have never heard of “Rickenberry”. I am trying to think of similar sounding areas Twickenham, Risborough? Possibly he could have been stationed outside of the London area on one of the American air bases and Rickenberry is a tiny hamlet village nearby?

    I think the terrible food he was offered was bread and dripping (solidified juices from the dripping pan you’d cook meat in). Sounds awful to us, but food was pretty scurse during rationing. Recently I went to an exhibition of food during WW2 and was amazed at how small the meat, sugar and fat ration was. Way to go to put the whole nation on a diet! Some of my family were merchant seamen and I’ve been told at one point during WW2 for every ten ships sailing back to Britain with food supplies nine were being sunk.

    I hope your grandfather is out of the hospital and feeling more like himself.