Friday, June 12, 2009

"Footloose and Fancy Free" - Compassion vs. Arguing

I told a friend of mine that God has really been dealing with me lately. I've been writing a series of daily devotionals on compassion - and how we Christians are called to be more compassionate, even when it doesn't feel good! I had been mulling over some thoughts about how to be more compassionate toward my grandmother - maybe spend more time with her... and certainly try to be more patient.

So it was that yesterday I went to her house yesterday to pick her up for her beauty shop appointment. I arrived early, so that I could dispense her medication into the daily pill boxes that would supply her for the next two weeks. She sat at the kitchen table with me as I did this. I do have to concentrate on what I am doing as I dole out the pills, but I asked about her neighbor, Earl, who went out of town and fell ill while away. Mam-ma has been collecting his newspapers and his mail each day. For the record, a friend of her neighbor's, who happened to be some sort of caretaker for his dog, went to Ft. Smith, Arkansas, a few weeks ago... I thought to visit some family members. She took Earl's truck on this four-hour drive. Next thing my grandmother knew, Earl had driven his car to Ft. Smith. He got sick there and had to be hospitalized for several days. Since his release, he has been staying in a motel room - under oxygen. He will have to be on oxygen when he returns home, and he has even called my grandmother to see if the medical supply place has been by to deliver any. Of course, as she told him, this probably won't happen before he returns home. The last time that I knew of that he phoned her, he said he would be home June 14th.

So I asked..."Have you heard from Earl again?"
Mam-ma: "Honey... Earl got MARRIED!"
Me: "Really? To the woman he followed to Ft. Smith?"
Mam-ma:"No, he didn't follow her there." (Let's see, she drove his truck to Ft. Smith, and he got in his car afterward and ended up in Ft. Smith.)
Me: "Didn't he go to Ft. Smith because she was there?"
Mam-ma: "Yes. He did go to Ft. Smith where she was, but he didn't follow her there.
Me: "Okay... well... are they coming back here?"
Mam-ma: "I reckon."
Me: "So she doesn't live in Ft. Smith - she just went to visit family there?"
Mam-ma: "No, she went to see about her sister, who was sick." (Okay, so sisters are no longer family?)
Me: "But she doesn't plan to STAY in Ft. Smith, right?"
Mam-ma: "No, she just went to see about her sister." (who apparently is NOT family!)

Me: "And she and Earl got married while he's been there?"
Mam-ma: "Yes."
I returned to my medicine and let the conversation drop.

I deposited Mam-ma at the beauty shop and headed on to handle a couple of errands and then to Wal-Mart for her groceries. It was a hot afternoon - nearly 90 degrees, and humid. When I got back to the beauty shop, the hairdresser was running behind, so I toted in a sack of cold groceries - milk, bacon, eggs - and sat downon a bench to wait. The hairdressers and another customer struck up a conversation with me about food and food allergies. Meanwhile, the hairdresser finished Mam-ma's "do," and Mam-ma paid her. She grabbed her walker, and headed for the door. One of the ladies was still telling me something. I said, "Mam-ma, wait!" She never even broke stride. She opened the door and headed for the car, which was locked. I finally apologized to the hairdresser and hurried to run past Mam-ma and get the door open. This is not the first time this has happened, by any means.

I got in the car, and I asked, "Are you in a hurry to get home?" Mam-ma looked up at me and shrugged her shoulders and grinned and said, "No... I'm footloose and fancy free!" as if to ask, "Where would you like to take me?!" I added, "I just wondered, because you headed for the car like a lightning bolt." She said, "Well..." and changed the subject quickly. If the conversation doesn't revolve around her - or interest her - she just walks away. She has left her hairdresser standing in the middle of the salon floor talking about her grandson and totally walked right out the door. Mam-ma pays this hairdresser $13 a week (including tip) for a shampoo and set... and this woman is rearing her 3-year-old grandson. The least she could do, if she is so "footloose and fancy free," is sto stand still or take a seat for 5 minutes and hear the woman's story.

We got home, and I put away Mam-ma's groceries. I visited her restroom, and when I came back into the living room, she was waiting for me, with a boxed light bulb in her hand. It was a 3-way light bulb I had purchased the week before. "You need to take this back and exchange it... it's not the right size." I told her it was the only 3-way light bulb I saw, and she said, "Well, it's not the right size." I told her I had JUST come from Wal-Mart... I sure wish I had known about this, and she said, "Well, I know - I just thought of it." I told her I wasn't sure I still had a receipt, but I would look. I checked her lamp, and sure enough, the maximum allowed wattage is 150. I got a 50/200/250 watt bulb. She said, "You don't need a receipt - just tell 'em you want to make an even exchange." I explained to her with a laugh that "they might take me for a crook." She looked at me like I was from Mars. I told her that anyone could go pick a light bulb off the shelf and walk to the service desk and say they bought the wrong size. Without a receipt to prove it, the associates had no way of knowing if I bought the bulb or not. I don't think she bought it.

By this time, Mam-ma had sat down on her couch, and I know she was thinking I would sit down for awhile, too... and I probably would have. But I realized that this was how it was going to go... everything I said was going to incite an argument... because everything I say irritates her in some way. It just is what it is. I didn't want to consider that yesterday could have been our last day together, and we spent it arguing. So rather than allow it to escalate, I made my excuses and left.

Today I wrote a devotional about emulating Jesus and showing compassion when none was shown to us... offering kindness even when we are treated unkindly. And I do try to be kind and respectful. "Errand day" is not always the only day of the week I see my grandmother or talk to her. I just took her to a baby shower for my cousin a few days earlier. The only way I know to avoid confrontation is to limit opportunities for them to occur. I don't like this, but I honestly don't see another way. My friend suggested I find another "non-errand" day to spend some time with Mam-ma. But if she argues and gets upset over the semantics of her neighbor "following" his new wife to visit her non-family sister, we can argue about virtually anything.

I have come to the conclusion that I am not the person to visit with Mam-ma. I am the person to drive her to her appointments, manage her finances, pay her bills, keep her in Medicare Part D Prescription Drug coverage, take her extra chicken stew and new pictures of the baby, remind her to send birthday cards, and "put out fires" when she has a crisis. Her aides and nurses have their roles, and she has friends, church members, and other family members who can visit with her without a confrontation. And I am okay with this. This strategy allows me to be compassionate and "bite my tongue" each Thursday and the times in between - and return the light bulbs, bras, panties, and other things that don't "do to suit." It preserves many of my memories of Mam-ma and keeps bitterness at bay. There may be a better way, but I haven't found it. Meanwhile, I'm doing the best I can to have sufficient mental and physical energy - and compassion - for my grandmother... and to still have something left for myself and others.

1 comment:

Mark said...

What a wonderfully written account of everyday life with your grandmother (or, rather, once or so a week).

This reminded me of my father, who used to do all of this for his mother. I watched him stock her pills in her pill keeper, wind her cuckoo clocks, and do other things that she needed someone to handle after her husband passed away. He didn't take her to the beauty shop because he worked 8-5, M-F, but anything outside those hours was pretty much his gig.

Her personality wasn't the same as your Mam-ma's, but helping care for anyone at that age takes special patience.

All of my grandparents are gone, but this makes me wonder who will do these things for my folks when they need it.