Jarryd Stoneham, 23, Kapiti Coast, NZ
Do you love me?’ I always ask every morning.
‘Of course!’ my great-grandmother, Katie Thomas, 93, replies.
I guess it’s unusual for a young, tattooed guy with a goatee to devote himself to looking after his great-nan, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Katie – who I call Nanny –has had Alzheimer’s for 12 years. Before I began caring for her, I was a builder.
My grandmother, Alamein, used to look after Nanny but when she got sick I stepped in to help.
Nanny’s always been a big part of my life so I figured I was the best person to do it.
My days are now spent ensuring she’s warm and comfortable, cooking, and making sure she gets exercise. I take her out to church on Sundays too.
It’s important to keep Alzheimer’s patients stimulated both mentally and physically so I keep Nanny entertained. She particularly loves music and claps her hands and taps her feet along to her favourite songs.
One morning I put on the song 7 Years by Lukas Graham. It’s about how friends and family always love you, whatever your age.
‘Do you want to dance with me?’ I asked her.
She smiled and nodded.
We’d danced before but this time I thought I’d record a video of the two of us on my phone to share with our loved ones. I knew everyone would love to see her so happy.
So I put my arms around her and Nanny put hers on my waist as we slowly danced around the kitchen. Still in her dressing gown, she was having the time of her life!
Because Nanny is about half my height, I knelt down as we giggled together. She was so thrilled she couldn’t stop smiling.
Afterwards, I gave her a kiss on the head, fetched her walking frame and went to make breakfast for her.
Shortly after, I posted my video on Facebook, tagging a few family members so they’d see it.
Asked Nanny for a dance. She can’t remember much but she still knows how to move I wrote.
But nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.
I posted my video on Facebook, but nothing could've prepared me for what happened next
My family and friends loved the video so much they started sharing it on their own Facebook pages.
Before I knew it, I was receiving messages from friends. 'Bro! You’ve gone viral!' they said.
I watched in disbelief as Nanny and I hit the news headlines around the world. My phone began running so hot from reporters I had to turn it off at night just to get some sleep!
I was touched when complete strangers started messaging me too.
'It’s so nice to see a young person showing love for their nanna,' one wrote.
'This reminds me that the simple things in life are the most important ones,' said another.
But most of all, people loved the beautiful, happy smile on Nanny’s face.
Many people said it also reminded them of the loved ones they’d lost and regretted not spending more time with while they were here.
I still receive messages every day from all over the world. Some are written in languages I don’t even understand and I have to use Google to translate them!
One particularly touching letter came from a woman who used to dance with her husband before she lost him to Alzheimer’s. She’d been unable to cry since he passed away seven years before, but watching our video opened the floodgates for her.
I still receive messages from all over the world
As for Nanny, she’s completely oblivious to all the fuss. When people tell her, ‘Nan, you’re famous,’ she just rolls her eyes. For her, life goes on as usual.
People ask me if I want to be out partying and doing my own thing, but with the support of my family, I still have interests.
I keep in touch with my friends and go to the gym. But most of all, I love hanging out with Nanny.
She makes me laugh all the time. The way I see it is, your parents look after you for 20 years or so.
That’s a long commitment – what’s the hardship in spending a couple of years looking after them in return?
Besides, Nanny has taught me a lot. I’ve learnt to think about others before myself and I’m a good cook now too!
I never expected such a simple video would result in such a massive outpouring of love but I couldn’t be happier.
I love it when I see siblings I don’t even know tagging each other beneath my video saying things like Hey, shall we go and visit Nan?
The original video has had over 20 million views now.
Should the time come that I can no longer look after Nanny, I’ll have no regrets because we’ve made the most of our time together. I’m lucky to still have my great-grandmother.
For those who don’t have their grandparents, create special times with your mum, dad, sisters, brothers, cousins and friends. One day that special time will become a great memory.
I’ve since posted more videos of the two of us in the hope of inspiring others to spend time with loved ones.
If even one person picks up the phone or goes to visit their nan because of my efforts, I will have made the world a more loving place.
Originally published in that's life! issue 30 - July 28, 2016