Photo/IllutrationMiyu Miwa receives a top prize certificate for her essay in April 2018 at the Tsuruga city office. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Three years ago, Miyu Miwa was being driven to distraction by her great-grandmother, who would keep asking the same question over and over, such as, “What day of the week is it today?”

Kiyo Baachan (Grandma Kiyo), as the old lady was affectionately called, was living with her, her parents and grandparents in the city of Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture. Miyu is now 11 and a sixth-grader at Tsuruga-Minami Elementary School.

Miyu’s grandmother, who worked as a nursing caregiver, gave her advice on how to cope. Miyu also learned about senile dementia at school, which helped her modify her behavior.

Specifically, she made herself listen and respond with compassion to Kiyo Baachan’s ramblings, rather than snap at her in annoyance. Kiyo Baachan died peacefully at age 102, surrounded by her loved ones.

Miyu wrote about her experiences in an essay, titled “What ‘Being Kind’ Means,” and submitted it to a contest for the city’s elementary and junior high school students.

Her piece won the top prize and was made into a film by Eigakusya Co., a Tokyo-based educational film production company.

I wrote a letter to Miyu to ask her about her memories of Kiyo Baachan, and she responded.

“She was always delighted to see me when I came home from school and greeted her,” she recalled.

Even though the old lady was hard of hearing and could not follow any conversation, nothing made her happier than to be in the same room with the entire family, Miyu explained.

With four generations living under the same roof, life could get messy at times because Baachan’s condition varied from day to day.

But Miyu said, “If I could spend time with Kiyo Baachan one more time, I’d love to chat with her forever, eating ‘taiyaki’ that she just loved,” referring to the traditional fish-shaped cake filled with sweet bean paste.

The day is just around the corner when one in every five elderly citizens will be diagnosed with senile dementia.

What would Miyu tell elementary school kids who are going through what she experienced three years ago?

“I’d like them to keep doing whatever they can every day, without pushing themselves too hard,” she answered. “Get the whole family to spend time together. That is the first step toward giving your elderly family member the comfort and sense of security they need.”

I learned something precious from Miyu’s letter, which was beautifully written in pencil.

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 9

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.