There are so many things in my life I could write about but I keep coming back to the same thing….my grandmother. While I feel I have handled the situation presented to all of us well, on the outside anyway, there are many days I just think about what life has dealt her and it makes me want to cry.
Just recently on Thanksgiving, we had a mini grandma crisis. My mother, aunt and uncle and I spent most of our holiday in the emergency room after receiving a call that my grandmother was not doing well. Every time the phone rings and I hear it’s the nursing home, I automatically fear the worst. My grandmother is almost 90 years old and has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for many years now. There is only one way this story could end, and I always fear this time is it. This is the time we will go to the hospital, and she won’t be coming back.
Turns out she was suffering from the beginnings of double pneumonia as well as severe dehydration, which in itself can be life threatening. While in the ER awaiting the test results, another woman from my grandmother’s nursing home came in to the curtained room next door. I had actually gone to elementary school with two of her granddaughters. Now if you know me, I don’t handle death and sickness and sadness well. As the situation next door was coming to a quite tragic climax, I just stared at the machines that were monitoring my grandmother’s life signs. I watched every flash and heard every beep, anticipating that something would indeed happen. The woman next door was perfectly fine, enjoying some food and wine with her family when catastrophe struck. That could easily happen to us as well. Those distraught relatives being asked about a living will could have been us, and some day will be.
It’s also well known that when elderly people suffer severe illnesses or broken bones or have to undergo surgery, it often brings about a rapid decline. Being aware of all the factors, it was soon becoming quite a stressful situation.
When things turned around and I felt confident she was going to be ok, two nurses came in to do a very thorough exam of her, looking for any other issues, i.e. broken bones (check), bruises (check), or any other wounds (check). It was the first and hopefully last time I saw what a bedsore looked like. My recent calm had turned back to worry. Not only was I fully taking in that fact that my grandmother was suffering from Alzheimer’s, a broken bone, blisters, bruises, dehydration and double pneumonia, but now I realize she has also been living with a very serious sore that she is constantly putting pressure on. How much more can you put on a person? While they were checking her wound, it was the first time in years I saw pain in my grandmother’s eyes. She was in great pain and discomfort and a tear or two began to form in her eyes. Since she has been living in assisted living homes and nursing homes, I haven’t seen this kind of pain in her eyes. It was something that I didn’t want to see, but made me realize maybe she is aware of ALL the horrible things that are going on with her. Maybe she is suffering from all kinds of pain and we just have no way of knowing.
Recent visits have been harder. With her dehydration situation, her decline may become more rapid. We try our best every week to get liquid in her system, but short of forcing the drinks down her throat (which I feel like I sometimes do), there is nothing we can do.
Last week I saw fear in her face. Another thing I haven’t seen in quite a while. It was as if she was fully aware of everything and knew she couldn’t communicate any of her fears, pains, or feelings. You, yourself, begin to feel not only helpless, but guilty. Guilty as hell that you have put your loved one in a home. Guilty as hell that you don’t know what they want or need. And guilty as hell that you can’t do one goddamn thing about it.
I feel so envious of the dementia patients I see that live in a dream world and have absolutely no idea what’s going on. I would rather my grandmother think anything about her life other than the reality, even if that meant being completely verbal but not recognizing me.
I don’t remember how her one brother died but the other suffered an unimaginable decline as well with ALS. It was the reverse of her situation. While she (in the beginning) had a healthy body but was slowly losing her mind, he had a sharp mind with a body that became useless to him. I had to watch her sister slowly decline as well for reasons I still don’t understand. It was so incredibly hard to watch such an independent and strong woman not even be able to pull the covers over herself. I don’t understand why life is so cruel sometimes. Then again, is it worse to lose someone without having had the chance to say goodbye?
On top of all this, I feel guilt, well really regret, that I never spoke to any of my grandparents before they died. By that I mean, never really sat down to talk and ask them about their lives before I came along. How they met. What it was like to be a professional dancer. How life was with the war and the depression. What was your wedding day like? How did you feel when you became a mother or a father? That is something I feel that I lost out on greatly. Our grandparents are filled with so much knowledge and fascinating stories that I am sure given the opportunity they would love to share and reminisce. If anyone reading this still has a grandmother or grandfather alive, I urge you to just talk to them. Ask them questions. They won’t be around forever and you will truly regret not getting to know who they really were. I know I do.
None of my grandparents got the chance to see me grow as an adult. None of them will be with me at my wedding. None of them will be there when I become a mother. I take comfort in the fact that they will at least be there in spirit with me. Hopefully they are proud of the life I have made for myself so far.