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Posts Tagged ‘Alzheimers’

‎The phone rang three times, and then four. After it got to five I waited for the voicemail to click on. I heard a cough, a throat clear and then my grandfather’s booming voice came on the line. For a moment I was confused. Hello? Is that you? Then I clued in to the fact that it was the answering machine, he had just recorded a new message.

I smiled, listening to him. I wondered why he’d done a new message. The old one had been there for years; I’ve heard it so many times I could recite it by heart. I was lost in my own thoughts and almost missed it. He got to the part where he said he wasn’t home and my heart caught in my throat when he said both their names. His name and my grandmother’s name.

The old recording just said “we’re not here.” Safe, simple, basic. The new one made me catch my breath. She’s not home because she doesn’t live there anymore. She’s not home because she lives at what could nicely be called a retirement home. She’s not home.

It got to the end of the recording and I waited for the beep, still wrapped up in her name. She’s not home. ‎ I left my message, passed along some information to firm up our plans to go down to visit for Thanksgiving. We’ll bring the turkey and sides if he could take care of picking up a couple of pies. We’ll be there between 3 and 4pm, depending on how long it takes for the bird to cook. We’ll try to eat around 5:00. And then I hung up, put the phone back in the cradle and ‎leaned back against the kitchen counter. She’s not home.‎

As it does so often now, it suddenly occurred to me how much she would have hated that recording. If she were still who she was before and not who she is now, she would have made him redo it. She would have told him it’s not nice to cough on the answering machine recording and he would need to record it again. He would then have to read through the instructions again, commenting on how small the print is on everything these days, and he would have to do it again. Because she said so.

That’s the way she was. She had a way of doing things that was so capable, so competent, so inherently right that it wouldn’t even occur to you to question it. You wanted to please her; wanted to do things just right so she would lean over and give you a hug. I remembered the hours I spent on a little stool in the kitchen, pulled up close to the counter so I could see what she was doing and if I was lucky enough, help.

There was a certain crystal dish for the pickles and another, almost identical for something else. But of course you would never put the pickles in the dish that was meant for something else. Those dishes used to sit in a cabinet in their living room but now they are at my house, in the back of one of my kitchen cabinets. He keeps cleaning things out, selling what he can and giving away what no one will pay for. He doesn’t know where he’s going to go, or when, but he’s determined not to leave us with a big mess when he goes wherever it is he’s going to go, whenever he goes. I snagged the pickle (and other) dishes early on. My dinner parties usually involve a bbq on the back deck and the pickles are served right from the jar, the lid cracked open if I’m feeling particularly “hostessy,” but I couldn’t bear the thought of the pickle dish being in some stranger’s house. Goodness only knows what they would put in it, nuts or some other such nonsense.

She would hate that.

Every time we go visit her at “the home” as we call it, the little word “the” in front of “home” saying all that needs to be said about it, I look around and see things she would hate. Not that it’s a bad place, they do the best they can, but she would hate the mismatched sheets and people in slippers all day. She would hate that she needs help to do things. She would hate the way my grandfather talks almost constantly, filling in all of the spaces that she use to fill with her stories and her laughter. I know he does it so maybe we won’t notice how little she says, how easily she gets lost, can’t keep up with the conversation. I know why he does it, love him a little bit more because I know why he does it, but she would hate it.

And when we go down for Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday she will sit quietly on the couch, trying to participate, asking a question here or there but she won’t go anywhere near the kitchen. That’s where it always hits me the most. I will be in there, trying to find her wisk to stir the gravy or the right pot to cook the potatoes and she will be in the living room. What I wouldn’t give for her to come around the corner and ask me what I’m looking for, while effortlessly digging out the potato pot and kissing me on the head. She would have done it better.

But now she’s not home. And she would hate that.

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Apparently the call came on Monday morning. I say apparently because, as is often the case with these family things, the news took some time to make its way down the tangled branches of the family tree to where I am.

They got the call Monday morning and I got my call on Monday night. The news traveled to the west coast and back, predetermined by some kind of family hierarchy which still alludes me.

No matter. I knew it would come eventually.

“They have a room available for her,” my mom said. “She moves on Thursday.”

And there it was. Ready or not; the time had come. The day that we had all been anxiously awaiting with equal parts anticipation and dread for the last year or so had now arrived. We knew in our heads it was the right thing, the practical thing, the smart thing. But now, faced with the reality of an actual date and a definite time, it didn’t seem quite so right, quite so smart.

I managed to hold it together for the rest of that night and most of the following day. In the arguments that took place between my head and my heart, my head was most often the victor. It’s time. There are no other options. This is for the best. And for the 24 hours after the call I even almost convinced myself that I believed it.

I believed it until it occurred to me that after more than 61 years together, my grandparents would soon be spending their last night in the same bed. They would no longer brush their teeth together at the same sink, pull up the same blankets around their chins, wake up in the same room, looking out the same window.

Ready or not.

I believed it until I started to wonder what will go through each of their minds as they lay down that first night apart, now miles away from each other? Will my grandfather question the decision that ultimately was his to make? Will my grandmother’s disease finally become more of a blessing than a burden, the fog under which she now lives blissfully shielding her from the new reality?

And then I couldn’t hold it together any longer. I sought refuge in the shower, thankful for the water pouring out of the shower head, disguising my tears; grateful for the sound of the water drowning out my sobs. As sad as I was for them, I knew that selfishly, the tears were actually for me. The reality finally sinking in that we could never go back. Never go back to a time when my grandmother ruled that house, aware of all that went on within its four walls, so capable, so loving, so everything a grandmother should be.

Never will we go back to a time when I would stumble out of my bed each morning of my summer vacation and find her sitting quietly at the kitchen table writing in her diary, as she did each day for as long as I can remember. I would sit beside her and we would plan our day – a movie, some shopping, a walk “down street” to pick up lottery tickets.

The adult in me knows we can’t go back; that she hasn’t been able to do those things for many years. But the child inside still clung to the hope that maybe she would come back, be her old self again, return to what she once was just as quickly as she had slipped away. That as long as she stayed in that house it would be possible, not likely, but possible.

Ready or not.

Tonight she will spend what is most likely her last night in her house, the only home she has known for the past 40 years. She will have a little bag packed for her and make her way slowly down the two steps and out the front door and that will be that.

Ready or not.

She will come back from time to time, but more as a visitor than the woman of the house. If there is any kindness at all in her disease I hope she doesn’t understand, doesn’t realize, doesn’t grasp the reality of what is happening, of the decision that has been made for her.

I don’t know what it will be like to visit her somewhere other than that house, to form memories of her in a new place, separate from the things that I associate with her, apart from my grandfather, still a couple but perhaps no longer the team they always seemed to be.

I will try to be strong, put on a smile and say things like “you seem to be settling in well” and “here’s some flowers to brighten up your room.” I will try to make the words come out, to not get stuck in my throat, tangled with all the words that I really want to say – that she doesn’t belong there, that it’s not her home, that there must be some other option.

But I know there isn’t another option, just like I know she’s not ever going to go back to being the grandmother that I remember. We all just have to try and make the best of things as they are. Time will continue to move on, and we will each have to adapt to things as they are now, not as they used to be.

Whether we’re ready to, or not.

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