Seems like a dramatic title, but that’s what this week has felt like to me.
*long story ahead*
There is one place during my first 17 years of life that was safe, where nothing terrible ever happened to me. That was at my grandparents’ house. My mother and I would come up every weekend when I was small, and I would often be left there when my mom worked night shifts. At seven, we moved out here to the middle of nowhere to be close to my grandparents. We spent countless days, especially in the summer, at “grandma’s”. We had overnights, we had our holidays there, and we were happiest there. There was no fighting, no swearing, and certainly none of the abuse that occurred in other places. Most importantly, I was the first grandchild (and the only local one) so I was sort of the “princess” there. It was my carefree place, and my grandparents were my protectors.
My grandma payed for and shuttled me to up to five music lessons a week and karate twice a week, and along with my mom, my grandparents attended every concert, recital, game, and other type of event I had. My grandpa bought me a keyboard and spent hours making up little ditties on it with me, or later, listening to me practice. He taught me to wiggle my nose, and wiggle my ears. My grandparents took me on road trips all over the US and Canada, and on my first trip overseas for a month in the UK and Ireland. At 14 I moved in with them (my mother did, too, eventually) and they kept the rest of the world out for us, so that we could heal and recover and move on to better lives. They gave their time, money, home, and energy tirelessly, helping out all of us when we were in trouble, but especially my mom and even more especially me. They paid for my car and my gas and my books in college. They visited me when I moved to another state (very temporarily). They helped fund my first trip to Nepal and didn’t even try to talk me out of it.
Over the last 10 years, since I’ve become an official “adult”, they began to decline. By 2009, I had moved back home so that they would have someone close by. They had a “helper” who came twice a week for four hours, to do the more exhausting types of cleaning, like laundry, food prep, floor cleaning, etc. Soon my grandma was too frail to drive, and the same lady began driving her to appointments. My grandpa’s Alzheimer’s progressed to the point where he began to wander, and he also began having falls (due to a bad heart valve). It became obvious that we needed more care, and we started hiring people to stay during the day. As my grandparents became unable to do any household chores, prepare their own food, or dress or bathe without assistance, we were hiring caregivers for all three shifts to cover their care 24/7. If they called in, my mom filled in. If one had an appointment, one of us filled in to help the other. In this way, we avoided putting them into a nursing home.
I have always known that I’d lose my grandparents someday. They are now in their mid-80s and in poor health, completely dependent upon caregivers for everything. I knew this year that we were getting close, but still it seemed unreal. I have never lived a day in this world without the protection and love of both of them. I have never known a place called “home” that didn’t include them.
My grandma was hospitalized twice over the holidays but came home the same each time. She has always been frailer in health than my grandpa. And yet, his mind is far gone, and all he knows now are things from the distant past, especially his wife. He has told her many times that he couldn’t live without her. “Please don’t die before me,” he would plead. I dreaded the day when she was gone and he would ask for her every two minutes.
Now it seems that that day will never come. Last week he began vomiting and his belly swelled up. He has a bowel obstruction that cannot be fixed without surgery. So it was with a heavy heart but with conviction that he would not survive surgery or its complications, that we chose today to bring in home with hospice. He is less with us than ever before, requires an NG tube to keep his distention down (for comfort), but otherwise he is cheerful, easygoing, and as pleasant as can be when he’s awake. He doesn’t ask for food or water, he doesn’t ask for anything. He just makes little jokes or mutters about random things. In his sleep he moves his hands as if he’s driving, or petting a cat, or whatever.
My grandma, on the other hand, is a hot mess. The stress makes her very irritable, demanding, and sometimes mean. She wants to tell the doctors long, rambling stories that have almost nothing to do with anything and starts yelling at all of us to, “listen to me!” Oy. She wasn’t keen on him coming home, as she felt like she wouldn’t get any care herself. And she keeps calling me asking why grandpa can’t have an IV.
It’s sad. She says to me, “So there’s no chance, then.”
“No.” I answer. “He can’t be fixed without surgery, and we know the surgery will do him in.”
So here we are, scrambling to find someone to sit with him in the hospital until he comes home tomorrow, as well as to care for grandma. Oh and we have to move a ton of furniture around to accommodate the equipment coming in the morning. There aren’t enough bodies or hands.
And after long last, we have reached the beginning of the end. I will never be ready, no matter how long it takes. I love my grandpa very much, and I’m happy for him that he won’t have to live in a world without his wife, which is exactly what he wanted. I’m happy that he won’t die with tubes down his throat and everywhere else, miserable and confused and lost. He’ll be at home, with people who love him, comfortable and at peace. We should all be so lucky.
As much as I love my grandpa, I love my grandma more. She drives me batty these days, but her existence is as intertwined with my identity as that of my mother’s. I simply don’t know who I am without her. Life as I know it and my self as I know it is all about to change.