October 26, 2007

My early childhood home was the home my grandma was raised in.  When she got married, she and my grandpa built a house right next door.  Eventually my mom and dad bought her parent’s (my dad’s grandparents) house, and later tore it down and replaced it with a new home on the same land. 

Because I spent my entire life living next door, grandma and I were close.  One of my earliest memories is of her putting on an Oak Ridge Boys 8-Track and she and I singing and dancing to “Elvira” and “Fancy Free” in her living room.  I loved those songs so much that she bought me my own copy on LP, which I still have, along with her original 8-Track.   

Christmas eve at grandma’s was the best.  There were only 3 grandchildren, all girls, and she spoiled us all rotten.  When it was all said and done, there would be a sea of discarded wrapping paper in the center of the den that was waist high on us kids. 

Grandma love to exercise, and she would walk or ride her stationary bicycle dozens of miles a day.  She even had one of those adult tricycle things, with a big basket in back, where I used to ride.  My friends and I called it the Mister McFeely bike.  I can remember many weekend mornings going on her walks with her.  Sometimes, on the way home from school, our bus driver would pick her up and deliver her home.  This was highly embarassing for me during my teenage years. 

Grandma always had the best snacks (wheat thins and squeeze cheese), an endless supply of candy bars, and I could always control the TV.  In my younger days it was heaven, but as I grew up, spending time with grandma was put on the back burner.  As a teenager, I would much rather spend time with my friends, but I still made time for grandma, although not as often.  She never seemed to be bothered by the declining frequency of my visits.  When I showed up she would drop everything to spend time with me.  She acted genuinely interested in what I watched, which was usually videos on MTV.  (For all you youngsters, MTV did play videos back in the day)  I can remember educating her on which hair band was which. 

For as long as I can remember it was known that she was forgetful.  After she retired it became evident that she was plagued with more that just a mild case of senility, and she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.   

It was in my teenage years that she started to get real bad.  She was always a happy person, and thankfully, her disease did not take that away.  We were fortunate that she did not get violent or argumentative when we corrected her.  Although we all knew she couldn’t help not knowing things, it was hard not to be impatient when she asked you the same things a dozen times an hour.  Sometimes, when on my walks down our road, I would act like I didn’t see or hear her calling to me, because I simply didn’t want to deal with it.  I told myself then that one day I would regret doing that, and I do. 

My grandma had an infectious laugh.  It was absurdly loud at times, and considering that she laughed at everything, it could easily get on your nerves.  The sad thing is, I was so busy with my own life that I never really realized it was gone until I watched some home video several years ago and heard it.  She was laughing loudly at one of our silly antics, and on the video, I heard her say, “We need a Kodak”.   To grandma, all camera’s were Kodak’s.  I called J in the room, made him watch the video and told him, “the person you know isn’t my grandma, that’s my grandma, right there on the video”. 

Ten years ago, grandma was a sweet woman, who laughed at everything, and asked you the same thing repeatedly.  She always was glad to see you.  I went to visit once, and began to doze off in the chair.  I heard her tell my grandpa that she was so happy I was there she didn’t care if I slept through our visit. 

She was easily confused, and didn’t always have the best judgement.  She once called a church member who had been caught having an affair and told him that she was very disapointed in him and that she knew he had been raised better than that, not to mention she had taught him right from wrong when he was a child in her Sunday School class.  

Several years ago it became evident that Alzhiemers was robbing her of more than her tact and short term memory.  She became a lifeless individual that would roam the house incessantly wanting to “go home”.  Our annual Christmas gatherings became a burden to her.  She was homebound, and had long given up the cooking, cleaning and shopping, but she didn’t even enjoy the fellowship.  She recognized us, we were familiar, but she had no idea who we were or that we were related to her.  Although we still celebrated in her home, she was constantly asking someone when she was going to get to go home.  She came to know her bedroom as “home”, and that was where she spent most of the last year she lived there. 

Eventually her health deterioated to the point where she could no longer get around, even in her own home.  She didn’t attend my wedding, or my grandpa’s funeral.  In fact, I don’t think she even realized that her husband of 55 years was gone, and maybe that was a blessing in disguise.  I would have hated to repeatedly answer her questions of where he was and when he would be coming home.  

Before my grandpa passed on, he realized what was going to have to happen, and that it bothered my dad.  In his last days, grandpa told my dad to do what he had to do by my grandma.  At this time she required constant supervision.  We had a hard time finding and keeping sitters, and it was difficult to know who you could trust.  Even when we had reliable sitters, sicknesses and family emergencies were inevitable, and we would often have to leave our homes or jobs in a rush to relieve the help.  Grandma’s 1950’s era home was not equipped to handle a wheelchair, nor did it’s layout make her personal hygene needs easy to take care of.  A nursing facility was the best option.  Financially, it was cheaper than paying for around-the-clock home care.  Furthermore, my father would no longer be repsposible for hiring, firing, and providing relief for “employees”. 

I went with my dad the day grandma was placed in the nursing home.  She told him she wanted to go home, which she said even when she was at home. For the second time in my life, I saw my dad cry, and I stood with him outside her room and we held each other. 

She’s been there almost 6 years now, and her condition has continued to decline.  She no longer recognizes me, or even acknowledges that she even knows I’m there.  She has to be spoon-fed and won’t eat much.  She can’t speak in sentences, or even words.  She babbles, like an infant trying to form it’s first words. 

I went to see her yesterday.  I don’t go often because it hurts so much.  Her once heavy frame has been replaced with skin and bones.  One condition causes her skin to be translucent, or sometimes ask colored.  She has huge bags under her eyes.  Instead of leaving her presence feeling uplifted, I feel down. 

Last April she was give 2 weeks to live.  I prepared myself for her impending death, although the grandma I knew died several years ago.  It’s October and she’s still here.  Most people would be estatic if their loved one survived an additional 6 months after recieving a death sentence.  Me, not so much.  I love her, and I hate seeing her suffer.   

Yesterday, as I pulled out of the parking lot, I began questioning God.  I know he has his reasons, but I don’t understand why he is keeping her here.

8 Responses to “Grandma”

  1. Brian Says:

    That is a terribly difficult situation. It is hard to understand why people have to go through such terrible things in the life. I can’t begin to explain it. I just hope and pray that there’s a master plan that we don’t see. Otherwise, we suffer for nothing.

    I think it’s wonderful that you visit your Grandmother, even if she doesn’t know you’re there. You could view it as being similar to visiting the grave of a loved one. You know they don’t know you’re there, but it’s a great way to show respect.

    Visiting your grandmother could also be a great reminder of the fragility of life, how nothing lasts forever and we better make every day count for something while we can.

    The part about your Dad crying was very, very sad. I dread the day when I have to make a similar decision about one of my parents.

  2. alyson Says:

    I know we suffer more than she does. She doesn’t seem to be in any pain, and doesn’t know where or who she is.

    I love you point of it being like visiting a grave. I had never thought about it that way, but it’s a whole lot like that.

    I dread that day too. I guess putting them in a home is harder than death, becasue death is final.

  3. Alyson, this was a brave and beautiful post. Thank goodness you have such lovely memories of your grandmother, and that although she’s changed, they still burn so brightly.

  4. Alyson Says:

    Thanks so much moonbeam. I just intended to write a short post about visiting her that day, and wondering why God doesn’t take her, but once I started writing it just flowed.

  5. writinggb Says:

    I was so touched by your post, such beautiful memories and such a poignant deterioration of your beloved one’s mind. Such a devastating disease. I feel bad for you and your family.

    My grandma died a year and half ago. Her mind stayed sharp until the end but her body was so worn out at 92 that she was bed-ridden. My Mom moved in and took care of her so she could stay at home, but I know it was a strain on her.

    Now I’m writing grandma’s memoir. It makes me feel a bit better. You write so well…maybe you should consider writing more about her…

    Hang in there!

  6. alyson Says:

    Thank you so much for your kind words. Your grandma was truly blessed to have you and your mother to help so that she could spend her last days at home.

    Good luck on the memoir.

  7. […] #1:  My grandma is dying.  Yeah, she’s been dying for a year now, but this time it’s for real (I […]

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