Tuesday, March 22, 2005

My, What Good Genes You Have!

My father's father always assumed that he would die first. He was completely unprepared when my grandmother died, Thanksgiving week 1987, when she was 80. I don't mean that he was literally unprepared - they had all of their affairs in order - but he was emotionally bereft. He settled in for a temporary life without her, assuming that he'd soon follow in her footsteps.

He didn't. Next month, my grandfather will turn 97. He never wanted to live this long, especially without her, but he's scared of dying. Every day, he talks to my grandmother's picture, every night, he kisses it goodnight before bed.

But that is all that has remained the same since she died. After a couple of years, Grandpa sold their house and moved into an apartment. After several years in the apartment, he moved into an apartment in an assisted living facility. Eventually, he lacked even the independence for that. He refused to move into the full-time nursing care wing - he calls it The Nursery - so he moved in with my parents.

Now he lives 300 miles north of where he lived his entire life. Not that it matters, he might think. All of his friends and most of his family are dead. He has a bedroom and bathroom off the family room of my parents' home, formerly my father's office. He falls and can't be left alone, so he has an aide with him whenever my parents have to leave the house for any reason.

And, finally, his mind is beginning to go. His personality is dramatically changed. He would have hated the person he's become. He doesn't always recognize my mother, who's been married to his son for over 35 years. He loses hearing aides like I lose chapsticks. He once put an almond into his ear instead.

And it's awful for my parents. They're not homebody types. But they're stuck at home all the time now, except for when they're working and have an aide come to stay with my grandfather. The aides are very expensive - $800/week just for while my parents are at work. And my mother hates having them in her house when she's not there. She comes home to find that the aide used a key ingredient from the evening's dinner menu to prepare my grandfather's lunch. Or she'll find a tablecloth that had been hidden in the back of a drawer somewhere suddenly covering a table.

It's all very stressful, the aides and the lack of privacy and the being homebound with an cantankerous old man who doesn't know who you are half the time and runs through the same litany of stories and complaints over and over and over. He can't tell time. He gets up for the day at 2:00 am sometimes. This old Kentucky Colonel was such a powerful, dignified, intelligent, wonderful man. I don't recognize who he's become, and he wouldn't either.

But when my parents left him in a nursing home last summer so that they could take a trip, he was so miserable. He called my father dozens of times a day, leaving the most pitiful messages. It was heartbreaking.

This is so hard on my parents, on their marriage. And it's so hard for him - no one wants end up this way. But he's still healthy as a horse. And there are no easy answers.


Jessica said...

I simply cannot imagine what that must be like...not for your grandfather or your parents (with their own personal struggles as individuals as well as being affected as a couple). Heartbreaking, indeed.

none said...

My fathers sister was left to care for my grandfather. I think it went on for 15 years. When he died, something came up and my parents asked her and her husband to take me in for a while. (I was a teenager then.)

Exhausted from years of care, they refused the "honor". I was a little angry about it for a while, until I spent sometime with older people who needed care. Then I understood.

Smithie said...

My in-laws are doing this right now, and it is sheer unmitigated hell. Of course, Grand-pa was never a good person to start with, so at least there's not the heart-wrenching contrast to deal with. But he used to be very independent and macho, and now he is completely emotionally vulnerable, and I am seriously worried that my MIL is going to wind up needing surgery on her ulcers before this all slogs to its inevitable end.

My grandfather used to call pneumonia "the old man's friend." I thought that was unbearably morbid until we all watched him die of ALS. I really believe that dying too soon has a parallel tragedy in lingering too long. I am so sorry for your family's trouble.