Saturday, November 24, 2007

week 1 with grandpa & grandma

I’ve been debating whether or not to blog about our time here with J’s grandparents, because I am, after all, talking about other people at their most vulnerable. I am going ahead with it, and here’s why:

1. G & G both have grand senses of humor, and when they’re at their best, that is, the most similar to their old selves, they face aging head on, without denial. With disappointment and resignation, to be sure, but also a good chuckle.
2. They are simply going through a process any of us might.
3. Those who are the closest to them, namely their children, are already doing what I hope to: finding the humor, the sadness, the life, the beauty, the humanity in their experiences.
4. Sharing helps me to retain my sanity.
5. Some of it’s real funny.

So with those facts established, I press on to a recap. About living for a whole week with people you don’t normally live with who are experiencing dementia: I firstly recommend it just for the insight, and then I recommend running like hell. Ha! The most frustrating thing is that we're here to help, at the family's request, but our presence is itself a stressor to them since it's out of the ordinary. They constantly forget why we're here and tell people we're taking over the place. We try to stay out of their hair, but options are limited because of the physical set-up of their home; their chairs face the main part of the house that you have to walk by to get anywhere - in or outside, to the kitchen, to the bathroom. One minute you're a hero for taking a month's worth of garbage to the dump; the next you're a villain for also getting rid of the PRIZED CARDBOARD BOX. I am not kidding.

Here are a few highlights from the week:

ð Grandpa’s billfold went missing just as we were on our way out the door. After a house-wide search, we found that Grandma had accidentally put it through a whole wash and dry cycle with a load of laundry. So there we all were, pulling underwear and towels out of the dryer, ID cards and money falling with each shake. How odd it was to see twenty-dollar bills falling from Grandma’s aqua-blue nightgown, her secret night job uncovered. Ha! But instead of seeing the humor, Grandma had a melt down, thinking we were accusing her of stealing Grandpa’s billfold. It ended very sadly. You can’t speak reason to someone in that condition.

ð Another night, Grandma couldn’t sleep, and she came out to the living room where Jason was watching television. She was utterly confused but wanted to be informed of what was going on. This, as opposed to confusion that’s accompanied by belligerency. I was in our bedroom, but I could hear their interaction, and it caused me to weep. My sweet, sweet husband. I hope it’s not tacky to brag on your spouse from time to time, but if I were a millionaire, I would pay every last one of my dimes to have Jason keep me in my old age. [Do you hear that, millionaires? We’ll consider all offers.] He sat Grandma down in her chair and, for the hundredth time, with comforting words, explained why we were there and all about Grandpa’s health status, including a nice synopsis of the anatomy and physiology of the kidney and bladder. But Jason’s also a problem-solver, so he helped her to compile a bulleted reference list of “things to know” about our time with them and Grandpa’s condition. Eventually Jason came and got me from the bedroom, and we had such a sweet and lovely conversation for an hour, Grandma in her chair and we at her feet on the floor. We spoke quite frankly about what was happening to her mind, and she understood and mourned it. We talked of old times, Jason’s childhood, and she told us stories from her own childhood and stories her grandmother had told from her rocking chair. We had our old grandma back. A veil was lifted. The clouds were parted. We’d been almost a week in deep, murky waters and were finally coming up for air. Of course, we knew it was a fleeting moment, but I can’t impart what a beautiful moment it was.

ð Today, Jason’s uncle Jim and aunt Kate came over for a Thanksgiving meal, which I mostly made! This is a very big deal; trust me. Like I’ve mentioned before, I like recipes, but I have an aversion to following them precisely (and not in the way that a skilled chef can add a little of this or that and have it taste good; more in the way of feeling like it’s not truly my creation if it’s straight out of a book). I always get in too deep, but today was almost an exception to that. I got things done almost in time, with very little burning. I won’t state the whole of the menu, but it included piping hot cider with baked apple slices floating on top, stuffed acorn squash and stuffed mushrooms. Anyhow, Thanksgiving was always the main annual meal to this family, the meal everybody came home for, even more important than Christmas. We held hands and Grandpa said grace like in days of old. After lunch, Jason, Jim, Kate, and I went on a walk down the railroad tracks to the bridge. It was an important day, and likely the last of its kind in this place.


Anonymous said...

Lori, what a sweet story. I admire you and Jason greatly. I know this wasn't what you had in mind for your time back east, but life has a way of giving us what we weren't planning on. ("We don't always get what we want," in the words of a famous family member. Or soon to be famous anyway.)

By the way, if we have to pay you a million dollars to take care of us in our old age, you'd better start sending home cash so we can save it up!

AK->NC said...

Lori, I've really enjoyed reading your posts. You have an incredible way of saying things, so beautiful no matter how difficult they may be to say. You and Jason are wonderful people that I am so grateful to have gotten to know. So many of your posts strike such chords with me as I too wonder just where in this great, vast world I am suppose to be! Not many days go by without thinking about Alaska, but family just may end up dictating how far I feel I can roam. Good luck with everything Lori and Jason- doing what yall are doing takes a very strong people! Yall take care.

Christi said...

I love, love, love reading your stories. I hope week 2 has some moments you are willing to share.