It's Not Love on My Part, but It's Love Somewhere Else
Well, my grandfather's in a home, the "Old Folks Home." We knew it was coming. He's in the early stages of Alzheimer's. He can't take Arocet because it makes him lose weight. He has none to spare.
For the most part he still remembers everyone, though sometimes you have to remind him who you are. He has hallucinations, common at this stage. He's slow to answer your questions, but you can still carry on a conversation with him. That won't last all that long, so we're trying to have as many conversations as we can.
He actually went into the home just before Christmas. He had been diagnosed and was deteriorating slowly, but still fairly functional. My mother, the older of their two children, and the closest geographically, managed to get power of attorney and has been paying their bills, buying their groceries, and keeping money in their pockets. That was a problem, because Papa kept sending money to the scammers who had him for an easy mark. They would get him for anything from $40 to $250 and sometimes more. He was reluctant to turn over the purse strings and accused mom of cheating him out of all of those thousands of dollars the sweepstakes scammers were promising him.
Then he started getting lost. He'd drive up to the grocery store they've shopped at for the last 20 years, only 3/4 of a mile from their house, and he'd get lost for an hour or more, sometimes never finding the store and not bringing home anything for dinner. That's when mom started buying the groceries and stocking the kitchen.
I should say that Nina (a variation on Nana coined by my daughter) can't care for herself. She has chronic stomach problems, can barely walk, and has depended on Papa for years to look after her. Actually, she's a drunk. All day long. 12-pack a day of beer. No liquor, just beer. For years she's suffered from an anxiety disorder, and no matter what medicine they gave her, it never really worked. We've tried for decades to encourage her to go into recovery, we've medically detoxed her twice, we've stayed up at nights while she fought off DT's and other withdrawal symptoms, only to have her go back to it. Now that she's 84, it seems that beer is the only thing that relaxes her. If she's happy with that, well, then what do you do?
So, here's Papa, taking care of her, while quickly becoming unable to take care of himself. My brother and I were pressing mom to figure out how to get him out of the car for good, but it's just not easy. His driver's license came up for renewal. He had to supply some sort of medical info due to his age, and his license was permanently revoked. All good, right? Except that he didn't really understand it and kept driving.
At this point it sounds like the story is headed for disaster. It is, in a way, but not how you'd think.
Well, one evening he went out to the store. Hour after hour ticked by, and Nina waited up.
He cruises back into the driveway at around 9 am the next morning. Nina calls my mom and asks her to come over. Nina tells her what happened. Mom asks Papa, "Where were you?"
"Daly City." (About 90 miles away.)
"Daly City? What the hell were you doing there in the middle of the night?"
"I wanted to see my old house." He and Nina grew up there.
Needless to say, Mom and my brother came over later in the day and took the car. Nina fought it, but Papa told her, "I guess it just has to be this way now."
(Nina is still fighting it, poor dear. I can't imagine how hard it is for them to lose their independence this way.)
Later that day he wanted to go to the store again. Keep in mind that most of these trips to the store are to replenish Nina's beer supply, though I don't think that's the case this time. On his way to the store, he tripped and went down like a pile of old bricks. Too slow to break his fall with his hands, he broke it with his face. His nose was broken, both eyes were blackened, he had a concussion, and he needed stitches in three places. He was a mess. Between the shock and the painkillers, he didn't wake up fully until his second day in hospital.
Social Services came over to help Mom. Long and short, he needed full time care. They placed him in a temporary phsycial therapy facility, then into the home once he could get around a little bit.
I went for my first visit on Christmas day, with my brother. On the drive there he chastised me for avoiding the situation because it made me uncomfortable (which I freely admit I did for the first couple weeks.) He said, "Man, they're going down. Their time is running out. If you want to hold on to all that was good in their lives, you need to engage with them, relate to them. You'll regret it forever if you don't."
He's right, of course.
So we got there on Christmas Day. Jason had a tub of popcorn, a bag of cookies, and a Hot Wheels car for him. He also brought over Papa's electric razor, as the straight razor they were using on him was driving him nuts. We talked for awhile about whatever we could think of. After an hour or a little over we left. We were reluctant to leave but relieved as well.
It is not a comfortable place. The home is a montage of mortality and human frailty. For many of us, it is the future. In a way the residents are frightening in their deterioration. But they are also beautiful and compelling, like children for whom the signposts of life will be not growth, but whithering.
Papa has never gotten completely oriented to where he is. He's actually been in good spirits, considering. He likes to hear about everyone, though he can't always put a face with the name. He just likes the company.
He's amazed at how old everyone there is. He can usually remember that he's 86, but he says everyone else is in their 100's. Good enough for me. He's still thinking young. It's his own little world now. We just want to make it as comfortable and caring a place as possible until he crosses over.
I know the title of this entry is odd. It comes from that first visit on Christmas Day. While we were visiting with Papa in his room, a lady resident wandered in. Her name is Berta. She's in the secure section with Papa because she tries to leave several times every hour.
She went to Papa's closet and started shuffling clothes around, looking for something. Apparently she didn't find it, because she left. Ten minutes later she returned, holding a pink coat in her hand. She reached into Papa's closet, took out a hanger, placed the coat upon it, hung it from a nearby shelf over the TV alcove, then left again. Fifteen minutes later she was back. She took the coat off the hanger, left the hanger dangling from the shelf, and turned to leave. At the last moment she turned to me, pointed to her coat, and said, "It's not love on my part, but it's love somewhere else."
I certainly don't know what she meant, but on Christmas Day it was quite beautiful.