Thursday, August 6, 2009

Slipping Away

My grandmother is not the woman that she used to be. In fact, it could be said that she is someone entirely new and different. The new grandma is but a wisp of the old; for the old one has been slipping away from us, one memory at a time. At first, she was just forgetful. Then she was confused. We’ve moved beyond that to {most of the time} almost blank.

I think that she has bamboozled us for years. I think that this has been going on, and she has just been playing along, pretending to remember things. I can see it in the way that she says, ‘Oh, that’s right. I had forgotten.” When you remind her of things. Little things, like how many children she has.

She seems to think that losing one’s memory is akin to losing one’s mind…and therefore, the result of some character flaw or cardinal sin. She adamantly defends herself, trying to prove that she is still of very sound mind.

She has always cooked on a gas stove, as long as I can remember. She used to feed us well…three square meals and then some. She was a good cook. Now, she can’t remember how to turn on the stove…and more importantly, she has forgotten that she has to turn it OFF. She was bemoaning the fact that she had been banned from using the stove, insisting that she could handle it.

“If they would just teach me how to use it,” She told me vehemently, “Then I would be fine.”

“You would forget how to use it and then you might put yourself in danger.” I pointed out.

“Pish posh! I am perfectly capable of using the stove!”

I winked at her and asked, “Gram, what’s MY name?”

She was perplexed. She thought really hard, her little brows knit in thought. Then she guessed, “Jack.”

I patted her hand. “No, Gram, and that is why you cannot use the stove.”

The decision was agonizingly made to put her in an assisted living facility where she would be looked after and less prone to dangers of any kind. She didn’t like the idea, but agreed so that her eldest daughter could be free to go on a mission for our church with her husband.

I think that she thought that it would be a very short term solution. She kept telling folks that she had another home, and that she was going back there soon. She didn’t see any reason to remain in this apartment when she had a perfectly good home somewhere else.

She’s funny, because she kept trying to convince us that someone needed to move in with her and take care of her. We actually had tried that, as my cousin and his wife had lived with her briefly last summer. It was very difficult for them, as she wanted them to be there…but not be in her way. To live there, but not disrupt her house or move in their own things. Moving in with someone else was not an option, either, because she didn’t want to leave her home. (but it was okay for someone else to give up their home and live but not live with her)

The facility that she is in is BEAUTIFUL. It’s a southern inspired brand new building that has the most amazing program. They have activities every day, from piano players to book readings, walks, scenic drives, trips to Wal-Mart to church services and an onsite hairdresser. The food is good, the d├ęcor is gorgeous, and they have the kindest staff. It makes me feel so much better to know that she is being well taken care of, and that she is not alone all of the time.

Just after she moved in, I asked her if she had met anyone yet.

“Oh, sure…I’ve met lots of people,” she said absently. “But they are all OLD.”

I hate to break it to ya, Gram…but so are you! She thinks that it’s terrible that they sit around and sleep all day. But if you ask what she does…she gets up to eat, then takes a nap. Eats lunch, then takes a nap. Let’s face it…that’s what happens when our bodies are winding down!

I’ve tried to explain to her that this is the time for her to relax, to enjoy herself, and to endure the indignity of old age. We all have to do it; it’s a fact of life. You can choose to do it gracefully, or you can go down kicking and screaming…but either way…you are going to get old.

I also wanted her to understand that everyone experiences a loss of some of their physical attributes during their later years. Some folks can’t walk, others lose the ability to talk, see, or hear. Still others suffer from a debilitating loss of memory. It’s all physical, it’s all related to our mortal bodies, and is not a failure of our spirit. It’s not a sin to forget because your brain is no longer at it’s prime.

She continues to kick and scream.

We have found it to be humorous. What other choice do you have? She’s funny, if you try not to get too worked up about what she says or does. She insisted that no one was coming to visit her, so my aunt started a calendar on which you wrote your name on the day that you had visited. Then Gram scoffed at it and said, “You are just writing their names down to make me think that they have been here!”

Then she started to complain that her husband hadn’t come to visit her. “I just can’t understand it,” she said. “I would think that he would come up here to see me! Why hasn’t he come?”

My aunt handled it with sarcasm and wit. “Because he’s DEAD?” She offered.

Gram was indignant. “Well, why didn’t anyone tell me???”

You have to laugh. Otherwise, you would be heartbroken.

I have to say, I kinda like this new Grandma. She doesn’t remember much, so she can’t berate you for not having called or visited…she doesn’t really know who you are, so she doesn’t lecture you on your past sins…and you can tell her the same story over and over again and each time, she is amused. That is, when she can hear it. Her hearing is not so good either.

I used to call Gram whenever I was homesick for the family homestead, but I’ve not called very often lately. She can’t hear me very well, she certainly doesn’t understand anything that I am talking about, and I’m not ever sure if she even knows who I am. (We’ve established that she can’t remember my name!) Instead, I try to send her things regularly…pictures, short letters, that sort of thing. Just enough so that she knows that I am thinking of her always, but not so much that it overwhelms her to look at them or read them.

She keeps telling me that she is not long for this world, and I know that she wants to believe that. She misses my Grandpa and wants to follow him into the next world, where her mind and body will be whole again. While I don’t wish that for the rest of us, I hope for her sake that it is so. She seems so miserable in her current state, and maybe she’ll be happy in the next.

I can’t wait for the day that we can sit down and tell the stories of the days when Grandma’s mind was not so good, and laugh at the funny things that she has said and done. When she can join us at the table and know who we are, the history that we share with her. When she can appreciate the fact that we still love her even though she is not our grandmother, at least not the way that we have come to know her. I hope that she can enjoy the stories with us, and not be embarrassed that she forgot her children’s names, and thought that she had somehow missed the death of her husband.

The latest story about Gram is that she had complained that ‘they’ had moved a man into her apartment. Come to find out, she was going to the elevator and standing for a few moments…forgetting that she had not gotten on the elevator, much less went upstairs on it…and headed down the hall to her room. Which, of course, was one floor above her, and NOT her apartment. The man was indignant that she just barged in to his room. A few days later, they said, he did the same thing, this time, barging into her room.

They make a good pair! Maybe we’ll just mingle their stuff together, and no matter what floor they are on…they’ll be home. Sounds like a good plan to me!

1 comment:

  1. I love this, it is so true. If you can't cry you just have to chuckle.