I was 15 when I wrote and illustrated this true story.
I’d never really thought about why my Grandma was so forgetful when I was younger, always thought it was just a trait that inevitably develops with getting older. Because surely when you’ve lived a long time, you can’t remember every little thing that’s happened?? So, it didn’t worry me that my Grandma would forget a date when we were supposed to meet up, or her coat, or even where my school was when she was supposed to drop me off there. But when she started to forget where she lived - and started getting lost - is when I knew something more serious was going wrong.
My mum explained to me that Grandma had Alzheimer’s, which was making her forget a lot more than she would normally. So, to make sure she was safe we moved her into a care home. I had never been to a place like this before and remember at the beginning I didn’t like it. I didn’t know what I was supposed to say when I was approached by another resident, or how to act - didn’t look people in the eye - and for a little while I didn’t visit my Grandma at all because I was so nervous and upset. However, over time it became easier, I learnt how to adapt and mingle with the other residents. I realised that all they wanted was to talk, and even if the conversation didn’t make sense most of the time, it made them happy. Over time, I realised I hardly ever saw any other young children in the care home visiting grandparents, and this included my younger brother. I don’t think he understood why Grandma was there in the first place, and why he was always being spoken to by the other residents, repeatedly asked what his name was and how old he was.
So, when my school assigned us a project, allowing us the freedom to choose a topic of interest to us, as long as it was informative to an audience, I knew I wanted to do it about my Grandma.
I have always enjoyed drawing, anything I saw, I got it down on paper. So, when I had the opportunity to illustrate my family’s experience with my Grandma getting Alzheimer’s and moving into a care home, I thought it was a great opportunity to combine two things I loved: my Grandma and drawing. I thought I could educate young children, who may be experiencing what myself and my brother were going through, and how to overcome their own fears of the unknown......And that’s how “Where Has Grandma Gone?” Came to be. I based the story from my brother’s perspective and incorporated many of the memories and insights that I gained through the years.
I believe that my going on to do an illustration degree was greatly inspired by the creation of “Where Has Grandma Gone?” It made me realise what messages I wanted my art to communicate, what I deemed important and that I could use my art to help young people come to terms with their own exposure to a relative with Alzheimer’s. I’m currently working on a few children’s book concepts; all focused on helping children navigate the emotional and practical difficulties of real life. Children are capable of understanding and processing serious topics, if they are handled with the right narratives, approachable graphic representation and - of course - empathy.
I never imagined that this book would have such positive feedback, from so many individuals and organisations. I am greatly taken aback and humbled by its widespread popularity, and its apparent ability to help dementia charities with their fundraising and education programmes, even though that is very far from the book’s initial purpose as a GCSE art project.
If the book goes on to help more young people sustain a loving and understanding relationship with their grandparents with Alzheimer’s, then I have no words to express how incredibly fulfilling I find that as a person, campaigner and artist.
~ Harley Morrison
For more information, and to order a copy, please contact Lisa on firstname.lastname@example.org
At the DSDC we promote the importance of intergenerational engagement because it is one of the keystones of engaging, meaningful connection. If your organisation would like to learn more about how to meaningfully engage people of all ages in your service, why not attend a Making Activity Meaningful for people living with dementia course at the DSDC?