Sunday, November 11, 2007


I am worried about my Grandmother. She has had two (at least) mini-strokes in the last year, maybe more. The last episode seemed like a cluster of attacks, really... on top of some other health issues she's got going on. I'm getting all her medical info through others, and so I'm not really understanding what's going on, but none of the information sounds like anything I want her to have to go through.

Getting old sucks.

Just a year ago, she was still living at home, working as a substitute teacher, going wherever she wanted in her car, and wearing out anybody silly enough to try to keep up with her. Just this week, my Dad had to take her home to have her utilities shut off for good, and to have her mail forwarded to his house. She's living with my parents, and misses her home and her freedom. She'll never drive again. She can't make her famous fried chicken anymore. On good days, she can go on short shopping trips with my Dad and come home so exhausted, she's asleep on the car ride home. On bad days, she can't even talk or put her slippers on.

She still hasn't lost her sense of humor, but I can tell that she knows this is the beginning of the end. I don't even want to type that -- to acknowledge that it's just going to get worse until it doesn't, anymore -- but the elephant is clearly in the middle of the room, now. Everybody in the family knows how this thing works and nobody wants to talk about it, but everyone has to answer the same, uncomfortable questions about what happens next, and then after that, and after that... what do we do when we can't lift her, or when we can no longer provide the care she needs at my parents' house. And then there's the guilt that comes along with even discussing the end of her life -- as if putting it into words will cause it to happen, despite the fact that she's very old and has all kinds of medical conditions; any one of which that could spell the end for her. (Come to think of it, I'm pretty impressed that she's held up this well through it all. She's a toughie!)

The worst part is just watching her fall apart. She's always been dignified, intelligent, opinionated and sassy. She could cause an entire room full of people to explode in laughter at one of her perfectly-timed one-liners. Just seeing her curled up in her chair (she's so tiny, now!) watching TV, unable to muster enough energy for her trademark laugh, much less a comical remark, just seems so wrong. How did this happen? It's too soon -- nobody's ready for this.

And then there are my children. They know she's not OK, and that this goes beyond having a headache or being tired. They just know. It's eerie, the things kids can pick up on. Especially Joseph -- he's having a really hard time with this. But even Jonathan (my two-year-old) knows. He kept returning to her side to stroke her arm or talk to her yesterday, and when she fell asleep, he covered her up with a blanket. I am worried about how they'll deal with her loss of ability and clarity... and worse. And how much do I allow them to see? What do I tell them? When do I stop letting them around her... or do I? She loves them so much -- it would be punishment not to let her see them, but then, this can get ugly... What's the right thing to do, as a mother, and as a granddaughter?

Maybe God made the deterioration of age so ugly so we can all accept the inevitable goodbyes to the people we love. Maybe this time we have left with her, however long we get, should be seen as a blessing. All I can do is cherish the good days and try to comfort her on the bad ones, for however long I have left with her, and not waste any time thinking about the end of it. I also hope I can shield the children from things they're too young to understand while still allowing them as many treasured moments as possible with her while she's here -- and providing them with compassionate guidance through some of the toughest lessons life can throw at them. This is when it gets hard, this "living," thing -- admitting that at some point, it all comes to an end.

I want to stop the clock.


The Film Geek said...

Excellent, excellent post. I hope all is well.

Buzzardbilly said...

That all sounds so similar to what we went through with my Grandma, my Dad, and my uncle.

When the time comes to keep the kids away, she won't be aware of whether they're there or not. Don't worry about every decision that might come down the road. You'll wear yourself out and you'll find that these situations tend to go whatever path. In other words, when the time is right to keep the kids away, you'll know it.

There are a lot more options now than there used to be. A relative works for Hospice, so I'm pretty familiar with them. With Dad, we had no help at all. That probably wasn't a good decision on our parts in retrospect, but you do the best you can and when you look back you know you did the best you could. With Grandma, the hospital sent her home to die without telling us that's what they were doing. So, she ended up in another hospital. They had the option for pallative care, which is in the hospital and if they cannot help her they help her to go without pain, with however much of the family who wants to be there there. Special private rooms for that. It was a healing process and I do recommend asking about that if the time came to that.

Doctors are hesistant to bring it up because they hate saying that they are sure the person is dying soon. With my uncle, we had hospice, which falls between the two.

I hope that helps. Just keep facing one day at a time.

The Dalai Mama said...

rebecca: That is a very eloquent post. I'm sorry your family is going through this right now. It sounds as if there's plenty of support among you, which is good. My grandma has had to deal with many health problems in the last year. It is so difficult. Every time something happens, I fear the worst.

Buzzardbilly said...

I really couldn't get your post out of my mind. I felt like I should've added that your grandmother could have a very long time with slow changes. We felt sure we were going to lose my Evil Granny for a little over a decade before we did (and yes, she was evil but we loved her).

Take it a day at a time. That's all you can do.

Rebecca Burch said...

Thank you, Film Geek, Dalai Mama, and BuzzardBilly. :) You guys are awesome.

I visited her again today, and she was doing much better. I guess with these mini strokes (otherwise known as Transient Ischemic Attacks) this is pretty much how it's going to be -- up and down and up and down. Today she was definitely up, and even had her lipstick on and was more herself.

I hate to see her suffer, and I know that she will, in lots of ways and that it will be very hard to watch. But I also know that this time with her is a gift, and that if I cherish the good days with her then they will carry me through the bad ones. You're right, BB -- a day at a time.

She can still work a room. She had a lot of visitors today!

Thanks again, you guys, for all the advice, empathy, and positive thoughts.

fishing guy said...

Rebecca - I saw this post late but thought I wanted to respond. I just went through almost the same thing with my mother this summer. She was having mini strokes and would have good and bad days as it got close to the end. There were times I went to see her that she didn't wake up for the visit but I felt I was still there for her.
Remain strong, this is a time to turn to the place you receive your inner peace.
Your children will get through this time, trust God in this.

Rebecca Burch said...

Thank you, FG. I'm sorry to hear about your Mom. I'm sure she knew you were there with her.