Monday, October 19, 2009

A Visit With Time

I went and visited my grandmother this past weekend. She lives in Connecticut. This was a very hard visit for many reasons. Perhaps I should give a brief background of our relationship. My grandparents lived out in Colorado when we were growing up. We flew out and visited them a few times, they would come to visit us others, and I remember one time when we drove down to Disney. I remember that my grandfather didn't like to drive after dark, so we had to stay at a hotel in Georgia overnight, and I thought it would kill me to have to wait OVERNIGHT to see Mickey and Disney world. My grandfather passed away from lung cancer when I was 13, that was 16 years ago.

My sister and I were talking as we drove yesterday. We were talking about things we remember. I will never forget how he sang some song (it went something like-Skinny marinky dinky dink, skinna marinky doo, I love you...), it always made us smile and I still can see him singing it and doing these little arm motions to it. I remember how we spoke with my grandparents every week on the phone, and they would send us newspaper articles to read and these little newspaper activities to work on. I remember loving when my grandparents would teach us the capitals of the states and then quiz us. I remember the smell of my grandfather's cigars. I couldn't tell you the brand, but I swear I will never forget the smell of his cigars.

I remember visiting him out in Colorado after he was discharged home from the hospital. I remember my mom warning us that he might not recognize us, and knowing how emotional I got anytime we talked about death, she told me that if I needed to cry, to leave the room, don't do it in front of him (not to be mean, just so that we didn't upset him or my grandmother). I think we were there less than a week, we left on a Thursday, and that Friday morning my grandmother called to say that he had passed. We all felt like he waited for us to leave. When we had visited he didn't recognize us, and it was like pulling teeth to get him to even take a bite of food from my grandmother. Even at 13 I knew that it was the last visit I would have with him alive.

There were some issues surrounding my wedding, some of which I still don't totally understand, but this caused issues between my father, my grandmother, my mom, and I. I continued to have a relationship with my grandmother, but it wasn't the same as it had been prior to these issues. I believe this was because she felt torn about our fallout, and didn't want to take sides. She and I continued to talk by phone, but Arch and I got married in early 2005, the issues began July of 2004, and the next time I would see her in person was March of 2007 for our son's baptism. That was the first time I'd seen her since before our wedding. We then went to visit her in June of 2007, and hadn't seen her since. It wasn't that we didn't want to see her, it was just because of busy schedules, trying to plan travel, etc. She fell last winter, and after that told me that she just hadn't been going outside much. When I asked how she was getting groceries, etc., she said that she had friends and neighbors taking care of that for her. The last time I talked to her in May, before Mother's Day, something was not right. My father and I had only sent an ecard back and forth, and other than that, not had much to say to each other since our falling out. There had been an attempt at "calling a truce", but we disagreed on what type of relationship we would have as a result of the truce, and so it never happened. But in May, I had to call him. I had to ask if he'd talked to his mother recently, and noticed anything out of the norm.

I called him and he said he had spoken with her a few weeks prior. I expressed my concern, but he told me that their family up there (yes they are my relatives I guess as well, but I haven't ever known them well, my father was a single child and these are his cousins, aunts, and uncles) had a good relationship with her and that they would call him if anything was wrong. I continued to try to call her, sent her letters and pictures, and never had my messages returned or phone calls answered. It didn't make any sense. My father hadn't been able to get in touch with her either. So last Friday he called and told me that he'd received a letter from an attorney, and that she had had a stroke back in May, not long after I'd spoken with her, had been hospitalized and now was in a nursing home. Her niece was taking care of everything, and of all things is a nurse. Who better?!?! We had all spoken with her last week and knew that as a result of the stroke, she is experiencing ischemic dementia, as well as many other comorbidities, many of which just are more common as you age. She told us that our grandmother isn't eating much, it just takes forever to eat even a small amount. She is in a wheelchair, but is ambulatory with assistance.

My sister was coming up this past weekend to surprise my mom for her birthday. We were planning on making a nice dinner for her at our house, and spending time with her Saturday evening, and then the plan was to go to the renaissance festival on Sunday morning. After talking to my sister, we decided Renfest would have to wait for another time, and we would leave on Sunday morning to go visit our grandmother. My father went to visit her on Saturday. We went up on Sunday and visited with her for about an hour. We had brought a picture of my mom, sister, Arch, Jack, and myself that was taken last year, and we put it on her dresser. We also brought some other goodies like a bed jacket (she's always cold), lotion, Halloween socks that my mom thought would be fun for her, and a donut (she's got a mean sweet tooth). When our visit wrapped up, my father's cousin was looking at the picture with her and asked her if she knew who the people in the picture were as she pointed to them. She said she didn't know any of them. We were standing right there and had been visiting with her for an hour. She and Jack had spent a lot of time smiling and playing with each other. My sister and I didn't say much about it until later on. I thought that she didn't look too bad physically, but my sister thought she looked really thin and frail. We went back to our hotel, got into our pj's, and were slightly snippy with each other about the TV volume. Yeah, such a stupid thing to get snippy about. Finally when we were both awake at 1am and tossing and turning, we talked for a few minutes. We were both devastated that she didn't recognize us. I told her that I hoped that she might be more "with it" come our morning visit.

So this morning we got up, had breakfast with Jack, packed up enough train tracks to make a circular track, two trains, and set off for a walk at the harbor near where we were staying. We walked down the pier, sat and talked for a few minutes before heading to the nursing home. We went up, and looked for our grandmother. We found her sitting in a room with many of the other residents participating in their wheelchair exercises. The recreation therapist told us we could take her out to visit, but we declined and stood in the hall watching her. She had looked at us once when we first got there, didn't seem to recognize us and then looked away. About 30 seconds after that, she looked back at us, smiled, and waved at Jack. I thought to myself, "Does she recognize us, and know who we are, or does she think we're some nice visitors who came to see her yesterday, or is she just being polite by acknowledging us?" None of them are nice things to contemplate. When she finished, we got her and brought her into the visiting area. I asked her if she knew who we were. She said that she did and put her hand on our face. She always used to do that when she thought we were being silly. She never said our names, and I didn't want to push it. I'm not sure if it's more because I didn't want to know how much she remembers or not, or if it is because I didn't want to upset her or frustrate her if she in fact didn't remember who we were. We visited for a little over an hour today as she tires easily and it was time for lunch. She played quite a bit with Jack and his trains, and really seemed to enjoy that. We took some pictures, and I will try to post them later. There is one that I particularly love where Jack and our grandma are playing with the trains together and you can see how much they enjoy each other. Jack was initially very worried yesterday because of the wheelchair "Grandma Ann" was in. He's not been around people in wheelchair's before with the exception of visiting me in the hospital after our car accident back in late 2007, and he was only 10 months old then. Today he was still concerned, but when she came out of the exercise room he ran up to her for a hug and didn't even mention the chair until later when it was time to leave. There were lots of hugs and kisses shared between them, and my grandmother looked truly happy which really made me happy.

I knew something was wrong when I talked to her in May. I didn't have a way to get in touch with our extended family where she lives. I don't know that anything would have changed as far as her stroke, but perhaps we would have known before now and been able to judge if she is doing better than immediately post stroke or if she is the same or worse.

My mom and I are going back up in a few weeks for a visit, and Jack will be staying home with Arch just because it's about a 5 hour trip one way to where my grandma lives. It's going to be a one day trip, which is 10 hours on the road, and that's not fair to a little guy. I am wondering how she will be during that visit. She was a woman of few words these last two days which we've been told is her new norm.

I'm scared. I don't think she knows fully what's going on, and I think that's a blessing. She says she likes where she is. It's not like most nursing homes I've been to. It doesn't smell like urine, was very clean, and the residents all appear to be well taken care of. I just imagine that losing your mental faculties must be really hard, which is why I didn't push the issue today about whether she remembers us. If she does realize at all and it's pointed out to her it would only make her feel worse and I don't want that for her.

Jack really enjoyed his visits with her when he was an infant, you could tell that they connected, and this weekends visits they just seemed to pick up where they left off. Both of them laughing, smiling, it was good to see. I just wish she'd be around if we do have another child. I just think it's neat to see our child interacting with his great-grandparents (my mom's father is still alive as well as her step mom), neat to have multiple generations all in one place, and I have some memories of my pop-pop (my great-grandfather on my mom's side), but I want Jack to be able to make good memories with his great-grandparents, as well as any other children we may be blessed enough to have.

It's been a rough last few days or so. We're still digesting, and I find myself coming up with questions to ask my dad's cousin (she is legally in charge of my grandmother's care). I hope to be able to come back and edit this post in the next couple of days with some pictures of our visit.

1 comment:

  1. It's always hard to watch a loved one go down that road. My grandmother had a stroke a year and a half ago, and it has seriously damaged her memory. She no longer knows my husband or my sister's husband. Some days she doesn't know my mom. It is sad and painful to watch it happen.

    One other thing... the song your grandfather used to sing... It's by a childrens singing group Sharon, Lois, and Bram. They were big in Canada in the 70s and 80s. The lyrics are:

    Skinna marinky dinky dink
    Skinna marinky doo
    I love you! (repeat)

    I love you in the morning
    and in the afternoon
    I love you in the evening
    underneath the moon

    Skinna marinky dinky dink
    Skinna marinky doo
    I love you!