On Tuesday, Grandma called mom and dad and was all confused. She wasn’t making sense, and dad thought she’d had a stroke. So he woke mom from a nap and told her they needed to go down to her house (about 15 minutes) and check on her. She was really out of it. Kept asking where Tom was (grandpa) and why he had dropped her off at this lady’s house. But then at the same time, she knew it was her house (her things, her dog, where to find her purse, etc.). Mom was a little concerned, so she called an ambulance. The paramedic asked her four questions (what day is it, that sort of thing), she failed all 4 questions and the paramedic said, “She seems ok to me.” They asked grandma if she wanted to refuse treatment. Mom said, “I have power of attorney and we’re not refusing treatment.”
So, away they went to the hospital. Of course, they went to the crappy hospital b/c it’s closest, etc. And they didn’t really know what they were dealing with, so it just made sense not to make complicated arrangements yet. Several hours at the hospital ER and all of her bloodwork, etc, came back good. She kept talking about Tom and the fact that they needed to call him so he didn’t worry about her. And then a church member walked in the room and she said, “Well hi, Tana! How’s work going?” (She’s a hospital volunteer.) On the way home, she gave mom directions through the “shortcut” to home, and they were right, but when they stopped at KFC, she said, “Well, when did Mary Louise start working here? (Mom’s sister.)” She’s completely with it one second and completely out of it the next.
Wednesday rolls around. More of the same. She calls mom at work (now, get the details straight here – she’s lucid enough to know mom is at work, find the phone number, and call her), and tells her that when Tom and the boys (mom’s younger brothers – both in their 50s) wake up, they’re going on vacation to Missouri. So, mom loads up, leaves work goes to deal with her and she seems to be fine. She’s talking about the dog and the things she’s doing, etc. No mention of grandpa or the boys or anything.
Thursday, they take her to the doctor. He diagnoses her with dementia (go figure) and says she can’t live by herself anymore. So mom and Aunt Louis (Mary Louise) begin working on assisted living facilities that have a special wing for the memory impaired. Thursday, Aunt Louis finds one that she really likes and they begin the process. They’re hoping to get her moved by next weekend. Mom and Aunt Louis decide that she’s ok because she’s not wandering. They took her car keys early in the week, so she was just being nutty in her own home and everything seemed ok for a few days.
Yesterday afternoon, mom and dad went down, had lunch with her, and talked a lot about grandpa’s funeral and the things she could remember. She seemed to grasp it and realized that he was gone. She was pretty coherent all afternoon. They left about 5:00. At about 6, Aunt Louis called mom and said the Caseyville police had picked grandma up. She was out walking the streets looking for Tom.
So, the wandering had begun. Mom went back down there and stayed with her. She was totally out of it. Couldn’t find grandpa or the boys and couldn’t figure out why she was at someone else’s house. Mom decided they couldn’t leave her alone, so they’ve gone to 24-7 care until they can get her in at a facility. They called a sitting service mom had found and the same lady is going to be with her through Wednesday. The report this morning is that the lady said the night went well but with the rising of the sun it started all over again – looking for Tom, not her house, etc.
The thing about it is, we’ve known she was slipping for a long time. When my grandpa was in the final months of his life 4 years ago, she couldn’t remember to give him his meds, etc., and they were written on a board and in one of those little pill boxes. She would sit meat out on the counter and forget to cook it for like 2 days. Then she would! In recent months, she’s forgotten what day it was, where she was going, etc. She’d get lost on her way home, but she could always find her way to church to have someone help her. They had already started talking about how they would know when it was time to move her and all of those things, but no one expected her just to flip out like this.
I hate being in a position where I can’t be the one to care for her. I took care of grandpa for several months. I came home from Emory for the summer and stayed with him. And I loved those days. They were bittersweet and terrible, but they are also my very last memories of quality time with him. We’d watch baseball together, talk about the war in Afghanistan (which always made me angry, but I loved it nonetheless), he’d yell at me for making him take his meds. Those are days I wouldn’t trade. And I was good at it!
I tried to let mom let me care for her on Thursday and Friday. She won’t let me do it; she says she’ll drive me crazy. They’re just going to pay for the service. But part of me wants to be there. I want to help. I want to love her while she remembers me. Aging is a terrible master, and she’s healthy. I think this will be a slow, even years-long process of her slipping from us.
Walking through this now is so reminiscent of my time with my grandfather. But it's also very different. All of their lives he cared for her. He made sure she was ok. When he died, she didn't even know how to put gas in the car. And now, he's gone and we're coping with this in very different ways. Mom and Mary Louise are in "survival mode," checking things off the list every day to get her moved. I don't think anyone knows how "the boys" are handling this. Annie and I are too far away to be any help.
So we march on. We dig into our jobs each day and we try to put it aside for these hours. But all the while, we're wondering. What is she doing? Will she know me if I call? Should I call? Will it confuse her more? Is the woman staying with her kind? Is she competent? This march is different from grandpa's. He had chronic lung and heart problems. You could monitor him daily and know what to expect. You knew when it was ok to leave for awhile and when you had to stay. Grandpa was predictable. And he always kept his personality. Even in his darkest, very last days, he was always grandpa. This woman who has entered my life this week is not the woman I've always known.
I dread the journey ahead.