Thursday, July 25, 2013

still Grandma*

Thanksgiving 2010. Cape Cod. Before.

Life isn't fair: the sooner you get used to it the happier you'll be.

I've been known to say this a time or two, and it is sadly true. Our family has been living with this reality as my dear mother in law has been losing her ability to think and communicate. We can tie the beginnings of her losses to the fire that consumed their house back in 2006. Their house burned to the ground, with all their possessions inside, while she was away working. At that point, she was renting a room closer to her work, as the commute was over an hour each way-- which meant she had a few of her things, mostly clothes-- and while she was spared the panic of watching the house engulf, she found out in a shocking 'I-don't-believe-it-is-real' sort of way. They rebuilt, and all seemed normal, but looking back, that is where the problems started.

At first it was just word finding issues. Heck-- I have word finding issues, for Pete's sake. The issues were growing, though, and coloring her ability to communicate. She had talked to her doctor, who said she had aphasia, not dementia, which we had no choice but to accept. When she retired from proofreading, she told me she couldn't keep up with the young ones anymore, but she was 70... so yea, that seemed normal. It turns out she suspected then the issues were more significant than general aging-- although she did not tell us about her fears. I can't say as I blame her.

Dave's dad had to be hospitalized a few years ago, and that is when I started to realize it was really becoming an issue: she couldn't tell us why he needed to be admitted. Soon after that she got lost driving to Dave's sister's house, and had a harder time taking different routes to familiar places. Last summer we brought her with us to her sister's house on Cape Cod. Her parents built that house in 1955, and she'd been visiting there routinely ever since. At varying points on that trip, she did not know where she was or who her sister was. Regardless of her diagnosis, something was wrong.

Last week, things reached a crisis point. Dave's dad has done an incredible job caring for her, but her needs have superseded his ability to keep her safe. Sundowning has been a problem-- when we took her to meet both her sister's at the other sister's house this April, she'd forgotten that we'd gone already by the time we got her back home. She's been sleeping less and less, and she started leaving the house after dark. This once strong, independent, creative, and intelligent woman can no longer stay safe in her home; I think I mentioned that life is not always fair...

Last week she started living with Dave's sister, in preparation for being checked into a memory care unit. I know she did not want to go, but I do think she heard us when we explained we needed a safe place for her to live. His sister found the perfect place near her that has 2 cats to pet and gardens in which to get her hands dirty-- two of her favorite things. It's never easy to make these decisions, but it is easier knowing she's in a good place. One of our former babysitters works there, and she was incredibly helpful throughout the intake process. Neighbors helping neighbors, indeed.

While I am not glad they had to endure the fire, I am thankful they got to experience the outpouring of love and community support that came after the devastation: not everyone gets a chance to be present at their own wake, and in many ways, that's what the benefit supper was. In light of where her path is taking her, I am so glad she had the chance to be lifted up by that experience. I hope she knows that this move is an act of love.There are a lot of people who love her very much-- her siblings, her dear friends and neighbors who were instrumental in her being at home as long as she was, her extended community of support, and her husband, kids, and grandkids. I hope this feels like home, and that she is happy.

*The title is a nod to Lisa Genova's book Still Alice, which is about a woman who contracts early onset Alzheimer's disease. It's not the best written book ever, but it is filled with helpful information about what happens in the brains of people with dementia. I highly recommend it if you're interested in the topic-- or caring for someone afflicted.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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