I mentioned to a friend that I hadn’t posted anything recently because all that had been on my mind had been fairly heavy. True. Not that I don’t enjoy/appreciate a blog with some weight to it, but my writing tends to tilt toward random fluff. For the moment, as I sit next to my Grandmother while she sleeps…I’ve decided writing the heavier might be cathartic. My life has a lot of natural light, perhaps acknowledging the shade will provide for a nice balance - as with photography. We shall see. Then too, I'm not a photographer, I'm also not a writer. I fear my friends are all talked/listened out on this particular topic (Grandmama). If nothing else, they know my heart and my love for this very special woman.
This evening, the front hall of the Magnolia Wing (of Grandmama's nursing home) is quiet; the back hall, however, is buzzing with activity…as someone has just “expired”. There are loved ones to be informed, procedures to be followed, paperwork to be processed, and roommates to be moved. We don’t usually know when someone passes; they have a discreet set of doors at the end of each wing and certainly don’t ring a bell or make an announcement. We learned of the death because there happens to be a CNA working this evening who suffers from a complete lack of tact and a gift for remarkably inappropriate word choice + information sharing.This July, it will have been one year since Grandmama moved into NHC (the nursing home). It was a year ago this February & March that she began having such consistent trouble, repeated hospitalizations, a bleed in her brain, a reaction to the plasma intended to help with the blood loss…which led to a terrifying stint in the neuro-ICU. The weeks followed with time in Select Specialty Hospital, back to University Hospital, and so on… Initially, the placement @ NHC (the area nursing home of choice) was presented as short-term…physical therapy intensive…readying her to go home. I knew then she’d never return to her home again. As difficult as that was and is, it’s also for the best; her medical needs far outweigh what my Grandfather and I were/are able to provide (as those who were living with her). We did give a powerful and valiant effort. Is there a word which means something more than valiant, but also…slightly hopeless? Pedaling furiously…on a stationary bike, hoping that you’ll make it to your destination of choice even though you're not moving? My Grandfather is a stubborn man and held out much longer, based on a promise he’d made to her…that he’d never put her in a nursing home.
I digress…less background, more of the present.
Grandmama is often confused…doesn’t understand where she is or why. Then other days, she shares that she wishes she’d had some say in this “placement”…no one asked if her she wanted to live here, or what she thought of this place. It’s the in-between that makes it so hard; on the rare days, she is just coherent enough to know that she’s losing her senses. Her eyes are still very blue, but now always glazed…and seem very far off. My Aunt Brenda calls where she [Grandmama] is, that far off place, her “other place”. The other place is sometimes a dream-world; not a world made of all she could ever dream of…but a world composed of nothing but her dreams; mainly non-sensical stories. Children hiding under her bed, bags full of dogs, milk in her bed linens, the kitten water she’d been made to drink…Those stories, though upsetting (and not shared to diminish her personal integrity in anyway), are the more pleasant. It’s the more violent ones…where she’s been taken to the woods and stripped naked, witnessed the murder of a set of twin babies, or Is convinced Granddaddy is having an affair and also in jail for murder… Those daymares (my word) - delusions (psychological/medical term), are cruel and there is generally no talking her out them.
The exchange that instigated this post took place this past Wednesday. Having spent so much time with her and acting as a caretaker for the last several years she was at home, I am often able to anticipate her needs (as anyone in a similar situation would be…and as all of us who spend a great deal of time with her - are). I noticed she was having trouble breathing; she said she just needed to blow her nose. She can often be the Girl who Cried Nose-Blow..as she’ll do anything to get that oxygen tubing out of her nose/and off her face. She wasn’t able to blow her nose, and I still felt like she didn’t sound quite right… I requested that the nurse do an O2 check, and though they had just taken her vitals (she read at 99%), this time (the re-check)…she read at 91%. Since she felt “stopped up” we thought it might be the tubing; thus it was replaced along with the little water bottle that acts as a humidifier for her 02 machine.
Afterwards, she still looked so distressed. Her blues eyes - very worried, and her brow furrowed in deep creases. I asked her what was wrong, and she said she didn’t know… I reframedBama shaker (read: pom pom type thing used to cheer on the Crimson Tide). So I taped it to her closet door, directly in front of her bed. I taped it with handle-part down and against the wood, with the streamers hanging over it. It looks like McDonald’s fry-guy, but it’s a familiar object.
She didn’t think it would help…and I offered to take it down. She often gets frustrated with Granddady or one of my uncles who rushes when helping her with meals, but will never speak her mind – never express her frustration. I told her explicitly, right then (referring to the other times she had not spoken her mind), that if she wanted me to stop…to just say so. She said…”I don’t want to play this game anymore.” I apologized and said okay – clarifying that it wasn’t meant as a game – that I was only trying to help. “I’m here for you, Grandmama, that's all”… A sentence which certainly contained more personal weight than was intended for it’s immediate context.
I was frustrated. It hurts my heart to see her like this and I feel so helpless when there is nothing I can do to make anything better for her.
She stared out of the window for a few minutes, and then said… “The shaker will be perfect, because it will remind me of you.” I leaned over to hug her…and could not hold back my tears. I sat back down and we just sat there…holding hands…both crying. Again, she was looking off…not even out of the window, but somehow at a space right before it. She squeezed my hand and said…”let’s not cry anymore”. I replied…”yes ma’am”…and sat back in the recliner so that I was out her sight-line, and cried until I stopped. Damn. Talk about gravity of words...of a moment. I took her words metaphorically.
I trust in God‘s timeline, but do not understand it…not In her case. She no longer receives joy from anything and is hardly allowed to experience any variation of emotion or feeling… If she’s upset and can’t be calmed, she’d medicated. I too, want her to be comfortable. …But what about quality of life? I know there are those who live through far worse - without the care and benefits we are afforded. I pray that I am someday able to see the good in this situation…the positive that can be taken from it. It’s not as though the time we are being granted with her is quality time, and it's not as though there is anyone she's waiting on or wanting to see; there are no open pieces that need closure. Those who are employed by her stay will remain employed…jobs will not be lost, and for the most part…it’s not brought our family any closer together. Ultimately, I know it's simply not her time yet. The mind still reels.. Perhaps it is to keep my Grandfather alive. Perhaps I should be still, and be thankful. And know that after we brush her teeth and wash her face after dinner…she’ll enjoy the Oil of Olay being put on her face and neck…and the other lotions massaged into her arms and fingers. She always closes her eyes when I do that. And I always kiss her forehead.
(Grandmama & Kimmey...Mother's Day...5.10.09)