Posts tagged “grandma”.

The Bearable Lightness of Dementia

There’s a woman in my Mom’s nursing home, we will call her Flora, who has Alzheimers, or something similar. It used to be that she roamed the halls endlessly and would enter other patients’ rooms and go through their things, thinking it was her room. Flora only knows Spanish and thinks that she is back in El Salvador. She told me once that my Mom should learn Spanish, “if she’s going to live in this country [El Salvador].” Mom’s first roommate there was from Columbia, also only knew Spanish, and she told me, “Now that your mother is with me, I will teach her Spanish.” Unfortunately, that nice lady passed away a few weeks later.

But back to Flora. Usually when I come in Flora says hello and tells me how fat I am (¡gracias!). But now, Flora just sits in a chair cooing over a baby doll. She insists that the doll is her baby, and she said, “She follows me everywhere. If I go outside, she cries, ‘Mama, ¡no vas!’ and I stay.”
So Flora now obsesses on her cute little baby, exclaiming ¡Mamacita! to her. When I met Flora’s daughter and granddaughter, they told me that Flora used to take care of the granddaughter. She thinks the granddaughter is her daughter, and wanted to know where the baby is. She thinks her daughter is some nice person who comes along now and then.

My own mother is immobile, but it doesn’t matter, because in her head, she’s been out walking today, and she spoke to her mother on the phone a few times, and she asks me, “How’s Mama?”

Mama died 60 years ago, that’s how she is. But Mom has forgotten all of that. She’s forgotten that she’s lived 20 plus years longer than her mother did, and all those visits to the cemetery. Mama is someone she talks to on the phone. There is no phone in her room.

So I have had to create a posthumous relationship with the grandmother I don’t know, using the knowledge I have of a grandmother who was a bit different than the one I did know. She was quiter and less animated, but could get her message across. Mom wants to know where Mama is, and I tell her that I live with Mama and Papa now, and that Mama stayed home with a head cold and didn’t want her to give it to Mom. When the visit with Mom gets to be too much, because we are on the endless loop of “I want coffee,” I can use Mama to get out sooner. I tell Mom that Mama needs me back home. I tell her that I pretty much do whatever Mama tells me to do. One Friday I was able to use the excuse of shabbos approaching, and how angry Papa might get if I was late.

This is exactly the sort of life Mom never would have wanted, but she is actually not unhappy, and not the bad patient I expected she would be. If you asked Mom ten years ago, she would have preferred for the stroke to have killed her.
Living in a huge self-made delusion seems so preferable to being completely aware of how horrible your situation is. Eric’s cousin is barely able to walk but is completely with it and hates the worsening of her own existence.

Eric once said that perhaps there’s a reason why Mom is still with us like this. It’s possible that this continued quasi-existence is preparing us for the horrible possibilities of the future. At least I still have a mother who knows me and appreciates me. She is actually much nicer to me now than she was previously. I hate words like “closure,” but at least I have this last part of her life as a kinder memory than the previous one. And I also have a strange imaginary relationship with my dead grandparents, via Mom’s delusion.

Many older people go back to their roots, to the memories imprinted on their earliest existence. Mom cannot remember the stroke or where she actually is, but she knows where the Loews Pitkin is in relation to her first home. She remembers Uncle Slotnick farming in his backyard, visible from her bedroom window. It’s got to be some comfort that the earliest memories are good and comforting ones. My own grandmother often asked how her own mother and sisters were.

These things remind us we need to provide good things to the young ones in our lives–they might need that soft landing place one day many decades from now. Being there for them now means being there for them long after we are gone.

Mom remembers me, at least. For now.

ROTT: The One that Got Away

1000islandsFor some reason, I was overly fond of pennants, and my old room’s decor, before I slathered the walls with posters of all the new music artists I loved after graduating college, were these souvenir pennants, to show where we had gone on family vacations. I took all of the pennants down in a fit of “this is so uncool” pique in 1985, but I never tossed them out.

I am now tossing them out. Photographing them is much much easier. Except for a few vintage ones made of real felt, these are a styro-board mystery, and there’s no one  to donate them to. So out they will go.

I posted a gallery of them on Facebook, but the one vacation we too that was very different was right before I went to college. It was less glamorous than most of our vacations–we spent a week in a cabin on a lake in the 1000 Islands area of the St. Lawrence river, suspiciously close to Canada, where they lure you in with maple syrup and then brainwash you with bilinguality and the metric system. It was not completely primitive. A TV pulled in good enough reception for me to catch my daily fix of The Edge of Night. I mean, Gunther was on the loose. I couldn’t miss a minute.

I have maybe gone fishing three times in my life, and at least twice, I was the once who either caught the most, the biggest, or the only fish on the trip.

My father had polio when he was six and was left only able to walk using canes. But this didn’t stop him from doing anything he really wanted to do. Sportswise, he was limited to either gambling in Vegas or Atlantic City (and never losing that much, since he was an accountant) and swimming and fishing. As a kid, Grandma hired an off-duty lifeguard to carry Dad into the water and he would scare her to death by swimming out very fa, reducing Grandma to a frantic dot on the shore, waving her hands  and indicating he should head back in.

It’s easy to see why Dad liked swimming so much. The combination of gravity and legs robbed of their muscles made Dad less independent than others. So being able to swim on his own must’ve been very liberating. Gambling at a craps table gave him a sense of excitement. In the late 1940s, a car with hand controls was presented as a gift by Grandpa, because Dad spent many years enduring bad treatments and pointless operations and long separations from his parents and siblings while at the hospitals, waiting for these ill-conceived but well-meant surgeries. When a surgeon in 1995 asked me if I knew why there was a leg muscle in Dad’s abdomen, I knew exactly why.

Anyway, that week in 1981, we went out several times to go fishing. I know I caught at least one fish that fed us one evening–although I know very well that someone else took that fish off the hook. Late in the trip, only Dad and I went out in the small motorboat to go fishing.  We were armed with a depth map of the immediate area. This let me fully utilize my cartophilia (love of maps). We went to a quiet area around one of the 1000 islands, and we waited a bit. It was later in the day–not the time you are supposed to fish. You’re supposed to fish at first light, when I am usually heading to sleep these days.

At one point, there was a tug on the line. I thought it was a mistake at first, but it pulled again, and got stronger. I cannot remember which of us held the fishing pole, and which of us held the net, but a very fat, large fish soon emerged to the surface, fighting every inch of the way. Just as the net was being put under it, the fish broke the line and got free.

Oddly enough, this is probably the only truly exciting anticipatory moment my father and I ever shared. That, and rushing home from Baskin Robbins to see if Ronald Reagan was going to choose Gerald Ford as his running mate (this is the last time I watched a Republican National Convention, btw). We talked about that fish for quite some time. It is probably a better story that it got away, actually. In retrospect, I can see how exciting such an event would be, if you felt you couldn’t really do everything you ever wanted. But Dad pretty much did anything we needed him to do with us. He played baseball with my brother in the backyard, and tossed frisbees to us, and quite frankly, it was a pretty normal childhood.

So much emphasis is placed sometimes on what didn’t happen, instead of what did. And I sometimes wonder if Dad envied that fish, or hoped we would have caught it. I think if anyone valued the concept of independence, it was Dad.

The fishing poles are still in the basement, along with the tackle box. Bought once, used for a week, spending an eternity in the basement.

Your Grandmother’s Census

I went to a session at SLA 2009 entitled something like “2010: Not Your Grandmother’s Census.” Well, it was not as interesting as I had hoped it would be. I also pondered what MY grandmother might ask on a census…

  1. Are you hungry? You look hungry.
  2. Are you tired? You look good. But you look tired. Are you hungry?
  3. Did you eat already? I made you something. Are you hungry?
  4. Did you drink an ice cold drink too fast? You shouldn’t do that. Are you hungry?
  5. In 1920 we lived at 225 Roebling Street. Are you hungry?
  6. That boy/girl is fine for now, but later, you want to marry that doctor, don’t you?
  7. Aunt Rose used to eat fried eggs right out of the frying pan. Are you hungry?
Grandma feeding a new generation in 1988.

Grandma feeding a new generation in 1988.