Tuesday, July 1, 2008


My Mom and Step Dad take care of my Grandma and Aunt. My Grandma will be 94 in September. Marilyn will be 51 in August. She is Down Syndrome with additional brain damage. The last time we saw them was in June of 2004 when we went out to California. Grandpa died in 2002 and Grandma and Marilyn were still living alone when we visited. It was around that time that it was decided to move them up to Seattle because they needed help on a daily basis. The presence of dementia could no longer be denied and the fact that is was only going to get worse realized.

I had heard how bad it had gotten. I prepared myself for the worst. The worst for me being that she wouldn't know who I was.

We arrived in the evening and my Grandma had already gone to bed. It was weird to me to see a mixture of Grandma's and my Mom's things in their new house. Originally, my Grandma and Marilyn lived in a house four doors down from my Mom and Step Dad's. Several months ago they bought a large home out in the country and all moved in together. I was disappointed that she wasn't up but still apprehensive about how she was going to react to me. It was still light out so after visiting with my Mom and Step Dad for a bit I went down the hall to peek in on her. Her door was open and she was awake. She was on the old iron bed that had been my mother's and in my grandparent's home for years... and then mine for a time. She was facing the wall but when she sensed my presence she turned. In the moment her eyes met mine I know she recognized me and she excitedly shifted to sit as her eyes lit up and she smiled at me. In the time it took me to walk to her bed her eyes clouded a bit as she struggled to remember my name. I pushed the lump in my throat down and just hugged her.

My Grandma is all crooked now and has to use a walker. Four years ago she could still bend over and pick things up off the floor with ease. She went on about how she must "look a fright," and apologized again and again. She came out into the living room and I sat by her chair and held her hand. One minute she would know who I was and the next she wouldn't. Over and over again she would look at my wedding rings and then exclaim that I was married. She asked over and over who the kids were. She asked me who my Mom was and then thought my Mom was her sister and told me how glad she was that her niecey had come to visit. I held it together but struggled on the dark ride back to the campground to hold back the tears.

The next day we had plans to go up north to Mr. Macchiato's brother's house for a barbecue. I struggled again and fought to push the lump in my throat back down. Visiting with everyone helped to take my mind off of my Grandma and I was able to have a good time.

The following day was the big get together at my Mom's. All of my Aunts and Uncles in the area and my brother and his wife came. One Aunt and Uncle came all the way from Spokane. It was so good to see everyone. My Grandma asked the same questions over and over. Sometimes with only a few minutes between. She seemed to be trying to follow along but was confused. I noticed that she eventually stopped asking and just sat there looking off into the distance. The lump returned and I gulped it back down by focusing on my other relatives.

The day after that the guys took off for the day to do guy things. Frappacino and I stayed at the house with my Mom, Grandma and Marilyn. My mom pulled out bin after bin of fabric that she wanted to go through with me. My Grandma sat in her chair and watched. She wanted to know what all the fabric was for and we told her over and over that it was for quilts.

Marilyn sits in a chair just like my Grandma's on the other side of the walkway and they rock. She rarely forgets Marilyn. She once asked my Mom if she was Mongoloid. All day long we heard her try to get Marilyn's attention and then say that she thinks she is deaf. With it just being us girls I got a better sense of what my Mom and Step Dad are dealing with. I don't know how they do it.

The rest of our time was spent up north. Our days were filled with visiting and we fell into bed late each night. I was able to keep the lump at bay... until today. We are home. I hugged and kissed my Grandma for what was probably the last time. I don't know when I will get to go there again... and as she continues to deteriorate I know that even if I do, she won't remember.

I remember running into her arms as a child. She always held me close and I'd smell the smell that was her... clean, like soap... but with the lingering smell of coffee mingled with roast, or bacon, or fried chicken. I remember gathering eggs for her and then watching her make breakfast. Her infectious laugh and twinkling eyes... All the nights I slept with her in her bed and we talked late into the night after listening to Billy Graham on the radio... All the stories she told me... All the ways she made me feel special and loved. This was the first time I've seen her that she didn't lift my hair off of my neck, tell me how sweet it was and then smother it with kisses... This was the first time I saw her that she didn't call me Sweet Kelly or her Kelly Jean, Jelly Bean... This was the first time I saw her that she couldn't remember me.

I am so grateful for that first moment I saw her. I don't think I could have taken her not recognizing me at first. Even though she couldn't bring up my name, I saw in her eyes that she knew me and that she loved me. My Grandma is hard of hearing. She has hearing aids but refuses to wear them. Miraculously she was able to hear me and understand what I was saying. It was a gift, of that I am certain. Mr. Macchiato has a very deep, loud voice and she could not hear him when he spoke to her.

Everything about my Grandma is fading... her memory is like the flickering of a flame before it goes out. It's okay Grandma. I remember.


MUD said...

I am at that point in life where my mother is fading slowly. We will go down to see her on Wednesday and take her to Independence. She grew up there and we will hear a lot of funny stories. We will go over to the cemetery to see if we can find her grandfather's grave. MUD

claudia said...

It is so good that you were able to visit, and wonderful that she recognized you. I miss my Mom and Grandma. Aren't the elders of our families so special? We have so much to thank them for.
Nice post today, although it brought a tear to my eyes.

AmusedMomma said...

My heart aches for you as you go through this difficulty of seeing loved ones slowly fade away. It is hard. But you're holding on to the best of her through all your lovely memories. Hold fast to that, and God will take care of the rest.

Love ya!

Just Me said...

To still have your grandma and your mom on earth is such a blessing. For her to have "held it together" as long as she did is tremendous.

I'd give anything to have my grandmothers and my mom visit for a day with me and my kids.

Trisha said...

I am so glad that you got to visit your Grandma. It must be tough to deal with her not knowing you all of the time but hold onto the fact that she did know you for that time when she first saw you!

God bless your parents for taking care of both of these women in their home. It can not be easy dealing with dementia and Downs Syndrome.

My parents are guardians to my retarted uncle and are really struggling. He doesn't live with them but lives on the farm my parents own - which is where he has lived his entire life. I don't know how they do it.

Ecolo said...

I so enjoyed your read today. I, too, am struggling with very similar emotions, thoughts, & feelings with my Dad with his kidney cancer. I talk to him every day, but always wonder if this will be the last moment I can say "I love you" to him. Sunday he turns 85. Every moment with our loved ones is precious.

Thanks for sharing.

Sheri said...

ritney1Sounds like you had a wonderful vacation!

The last time I visited my grandmother, I had a really hard time. My grandfather had passed away, and it was no fun to be there where his things were but he wasn't. And, I realized it may be the last time I see her in this life as well. Getting old isn't so much fun!

Laura ~Peach~ said...

my grandmother is 92 and has the exact same problems as yours only difference is my grandmother lies in the nursing home as my aunt finally got to where she could not take care of Grandma. When Martha and I went up there last year we got to see her probably for the last time... and for a few seconds she knew us ... I did get tickled after we had gotten back home my dad said grandma told him that she was so happy to have seen all 4 of us (mike and cory were not there) but she was glad to see us :) I told dad its ok I remember and cherish the memories... so I so totally understand!
Love n hugssssssss

MUD said...

About the time I finished posting my comment, the phone rang and my brother called and said that Mom had some kind of an attack this morning and is at the Hospital right now. I forgot to say knock on wood after saying that mother is fading slowly (knock on wood) MUD

Roland Hulme said...

what a beautifully written post - but so sad. Growing old seems so undignified - such an unfair and cruel way to see out a rich life full of love and family. She's very lucky to have you and I hope the time you spend with her is full of happy, cherished memories.

I never really remembered my grandparents, but I do remember my father mentioning going to see his mother in a home. The telly was on and Wimbledon was showing... She was such a fan of tennis, but was looking up blankly, as if it didn't mean a thing. He always sounded so sad telling me that story.

Well, sorry it's such a difficult time. I hope everything else is good, though.


Brenda said...

She is beautiful. I'm glad you could go see her.