He knows- My grandfather’s brave struggle with Alzheimer’s

This morning I woke up physically ill to the point where I had to push back a meeting originally scheduled for this morning to tomorrow thereby making tomorrow’s task list.. a doozy to say the least.  But at least a lot got accomplished and is in process.  Life is an ever evolving (hopefully) series of self processes.

After I went back to bed I woke up only a few minutes later to a phone call from my father:

“Do you want to talk to your grandfather?”

At not even 8am I knew that dad must have finally made his vacation to visit them.  Despite the illness, I obliged… always ready and happy to hear anything I can from my grandparents especially at this most delicate time.

“What are you doing right now?” my grandfather said.

“I’m in bed right now..”

“Is the sun shining?”

“I think so.  Pretty sure.  But I’m in bed right now what are you doing?”

“It’s early there huh?  You don’t sound well.  Are you sick?”

“I’ll live.  What are you guys up to?  When did dad get there?”

“We’re at a graveyard visiting people.  I don’t know when your dad got here.  I don’t remember..”

“You’re where?!”

I got frustrated.  What the hell was my father doing taking my dying grandparents to a graveyard?  I understand the desire to pay his respects to those lost and now in their plots back home but…

and my grandparents, as well as my dad, already have their spots waiting for them.  Potentially in that graveyard.  It made me feel more ill and upset when I even attempted to stomach it.

I would have to talk to my dad about it later.  Just another gap in a huge communication issue.  I couldn’t say anything about it to grandpa.    And even if I did, he probably wouldn’t be in a position to really hear it to understand.

“It’s sunny here and it stopped raining.  We’re just visiting people for a few minutes.  Do you remember Pat Cole?  She played the organ at church.  I remember that lady.  I don’t remember much these days but I remember her.  Or I think I do.”

Pat Cole was ancient when I was a kid.  What I remember was her house being a cluttered mess and always smelling of smoke and formaldehyde.  I remember as a kid that I used to joke that she was already a zombie.  I couldn’t tell grandpa that either though.  I didn’t want to come across as being rude.

“Now we’re in the car going to get your cousin some clothes.  She doesn’t have enough.  We’re going to get her some more…”

I could go onto a tangent about this cousin and that part of the family alone but that’s another one “for another blog”.  Let’s just keep things at my grandfather for now.

“How are you enjoying Ethan being there?”

Grandpa laughed.  You could hear his smile through the phone.  Ethan is his first grandson.  You can almost tell he has a special spot for him.

“He’s a really great kid.  Really really great kid.  Smart little bugger.”

“How are you and gram doing?  Is dad taking you to doctors and things?”

He then went down another path.

“My memory isn’t what it used to be.  I can tell.  I know that something just isn’t right.  I can’t remember what I used to remember easily.  I don’t know why but I just know it’s not right.  All I can do right now is try and make the most of what memories I have and hope these ones I’m making stay put.”

I think about the things my grandpa has told me over the past month over the phone.  Of the phone call I had when I was crying because I felt there was no one I could turn to that could get to my dad like they could… and him floating off into another world where he.. knows he’s barely here anymore.

I don’t know if all men or people in general go through that “knowing” period like he is.  There is a part of me that wonders if this will be my fate as well.  If all the magic that I learned about my grandparents was nothing compared to the magic and wisdom and honesty and compassion I am seeing coming from them in these, possibly their last years.

I don’t want to think about the visits to graveyards with end dates now placed on my grandparents’ headstone.  

I think about how much my grandfather seems to know what is happening and… how brave he is being throughout all of it.  Grandpa is known for being a bit of a cry baby at times… like when he was young and his semi truck got stuck going under the underpass and they had to let all the air out of the tires to get it through and he cried like a baby the whole time.

This wasn’t that guy.  This was… someone different.  Hell, maybe it was a guy who actually learned something throughout all of it.

Grandpa’s strength knowing this gives me hope.  Perhaps knowing and being scared isn’t as terrible as one may think.

Perhaps he already knows that he’s going to be immortal anyway…

Perhaps, because, he already is.

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Unconditional: My grandmother’s heart starts to fail

“How is your grandmother doing?”

I froze.

I was at a bar last night trying to get my mind off of things and I really didn’t want to hear that.

You can tell who is really there for you when things like this happen.  It’s a mixture of the people reaching out and the ones that know when to let it be.  In this case, though I know you weren’t trying to upset me sir, it just…

My best friend heard little about what was going on but wanted to make sure that I was out and about.  He didn’t want me at home miserable and contemplative.

I’m happy I went.

I reached out to a few people about it.  A very tiny handful of friends whom mostly know only bits and pieces off of twitter.  I really don’t enjoy talking about it.

When I got the news yesterday with her updated condition, I broke down.  I feel horrible saying that I wish I had my camera for it.  In my mind that day will forever be encased.

“There’s 3 options.  All of them have risks.  One.  They can give her a full surgery and she could potentially die when they’re trying to put her back together.  Two.  They can give her partial surgery and medication.  She can still potentially die.  Three.  They can send her home with just the medication and she would be at risk of a stroke.  She could potentially die.”

I’m in the middle of a starbucks after I’d just walked along Venice Beach trying to unwind.  But I’ll be damned I didn’t care.

“She is not allowed to die right now do you hear me?”

“Grandma doesn’t think its her time.  We’re all worried though.  We’re going to talk about it.  Ultimately it’s her decision though.  I’ll call you and let you know more when I can.  Are you going to be ok?”

“I’ll be fine.  I think I just need to find a bar now.”

The people at the Starbucks turned on music.  I might have been a bit loud.  I don’t think I was.  Starbucks feels more and more cash and carry than ever.  I’m hesitant to go back now.

I’ve been crying off and on since it happened.  My best friend from back home called me to find out how I was.

“Well I think I may be going home.  Awesome huh?”

“Not really.  I’m sorry.”

We talked a bit more.  My brother called back.  I had to take the call.

“It’s John Paul.  I’ll call you back.”

“Goodluck chicky.  I’m here for you.”

“Thanks.  I appreciate it.  I’ll talk to you soon.”

I switched over.

“What’s the status dude?”

“We talked about it and we think it might be best to send her home with the medication.  None of us want her dying on the operating table.  This is what we think she would want too.”

In my mind, that’s not how I would ever envision her going.  That’s not her.  No one believes that.

“I’m going to write Andre an email and try to see what I can do about getting the kids if I can drive out there. Let me talk to dad.”

He handed the phone to him.

“I need you to be strong now.  I want to come home.  Can we please figure out how to do that?  I want to pick up Maddox and Sakura if I drive out.  It’s important.”

“This isn’t the place for kids.  That’s why I didn’t bring Ethan.  He’s never going to follow through with that…”

“Dad, let me try and take care of that.  Can you get me home?”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

More time passed.  I messaged the grip and told him it was an emergency.

“I’ll see when I can get out.  How bad is she?”

“Not good. Please get out soon.  It’s important.”

My cousin (who is close to my dad and grew up here in California) called.  She is a hypochondriac.  She believes she has a heart condition.  Years ago, I thought so highly of her.  Now, I’m not sure what to think.  But for what she was going to say on that call… I’m a bit insulted about.

“We think we’re going to send her home.”

“What?!   No.  That’s just stupid.  She is going to die then.  Not getting that surgery is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard.”

She continued as my jaw thudded on the ground.

“She has 100% blockage in one area, 90% blocked in another, and 70% in another.  And one of them has a blood clot in it.  Why the hell would that be a good idea?”

I hadn’t heard the specific numbers.  The updates I’d had were the ones I’ve gotten from my younger brother.  My dad was in no position to deal with it.  He didn’t have it in him to tell me.  He didn’t want me to know how badly he was taking it.

“I know dad has to be taking it the hardest dude.  I’m worried.”

“I don’t know Jen… I think its a tie.  Grandpa is really bad too.  They’re both breaking down.  I think Grandpa will likely go soon if she does.”

Right now my family is pushing to be strong.  Those of us who grew up with her.  Those of us who’d spent years upon years with this woman.  What my cousin said really was out of line.  She put herself on a high horse and then spouted off about her own “heart condition” and proclaimed she was more knowledgeable.  But that wasn’t all.

“This is my grandmother and ultimately it’s her choice what she wants to do.  If she was to go home, she would be surrounded by her family and loved ones.  It is better than being in a sterile hospital. I want her better.  But I also want her to have what she needs.”

“That’s my aunt.  My grandmother is her older sister.  I’m just as close to her if not more as you are.  I’m very close to just jumping in the car and driving out there now…”

A few visits with her may have been lovely.  My grandmother is one of those people where everyone quickly adores upon meeting her.  She is genuine, vibrant, old fashioned, conventional, artistic, talkative, and sincere.  She is a rare individual of beauty and art where I doubt anyone could ever compare to.

But my cousin does not know my grandmother.  Not like I do.  Not like my family that grew up with her.  Not my sister and brother that still live a few miles away from her.

She didn’t spend holidays there eating tons mediocre food.  (Sorry my grandmother wasn’t the best cook.)

She didn’t spend holidays watching how she would decorate the inside of the house and argue with my grandfather to help with the outside.

She didn’t watch all of the things that she grew up with remain there as she grew older:

  • some little chairs from when me, my sister and brother were toddlers
  • a tiny piano
  • of dolls, nicknacks, a bulb vintage hanging black & white television, and happy meal toys

She didn’t spend summers painting on the screened in porch.

She didn’t…

She didn’t…

“I’m going to a place that has girls dressed up in nurses costumes for a show.  Come out with me and get your mind off things.” my best friend told me.

“I’ll think about it.”

“Jen, you don’t sound good.  Are you going to be ok?” Molly asked me again.

The other line beeped.  Mo was here.

“I’ll be at a bar.  I’ll be fine I guess.” I told her.

We didn’t feel like buying booze there so we grabbed a flask of vodka and a chaser. Down the hatch it went.  Not to get drunk- but just to feel something different than what I was.  I drank very little.

The new bar wasn’t really great.  I stood there blankly and watched the show.  My best friend and I talked about other things… things that will likely get blogged about later and elaborated on.  Things I’m reflecting on.

The crowd dispersed around midnight.  We headed to our bar.  We walked into…

“How is your grandmother doing?”

I’m hitting refresh on my inbox hoping for that response from my ex.  As soon as he gives me a green light I’m most likely going home quicker than Dorothy with a pair of ruby slippers.  I wish it was all a dream.  Please just tell me this is all a really bad dream.