Saturday, March 19, 2011

"In a Few Weeks, You Couldn't Drag Her Back Home..."

"In a few weeks, you couldn't drag her back home!"  This was the phrase my 87-year-old cousin uttered to me yesterday when I stopped to visit with him and told him how my grandmother was settling in at the assisted living facility (ALF).  I think he's right.  It's been almost two weeks, and I've seen a marked adjustment in my grandmother's attitude already.

Don't get me wrong.  It's not been all smoothe sailing... at least not from my vantage point.  She has blown up at both me and my husband, who - as my cousin put it - we thought walked on water!  She spun on a dime last week in front of my mom and her husband, wagged her little finger at me and expressed at the top of her lungs her disgust with me over the size of a hand towel!  But in all, she is adjusting more every day.

Yesterday, we revisited "the closet" and removed several items that I didn't want to take in the first place - but she insisted.  Now she realizes she doesn't need them, won't wear them... and doesn't even like them.  Some don't even fit!

Her chief complaints seem to be... 1) There is too much good food... I'm gaining a lot of weight; and 2) There is too much to do down here!  She very well may be gaining a few pounds, but we've told her Wal-Mart sells bigger pants!  And she is getting good food - three times a day every day, as well as regulated medication as prescribed - every dose!  That has to make a difference!

Tea time happens every night.   I took her two boxes of Sleepytime Herbal Tea tonight, along with another couple of boxes of Chewy Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies for Tea Time.  Yesterday, she won a Nestle's Crunch candy bar - a big one... playing BINGO!  Yes, she still plays BINGO, despite her declaration the first day that she would "never play again!"  She has made new friends, rekindled old friendships, and won the hearts of the staff already.  She has the maintenance guy wrapped around her little finger.  She told him yesterday, "I just love you!"  His reply... "I love you more!"

I'm sure there will be bumps in the road and days when things are simply awful there.  But for the most part, it's getting better.  I still have to clean out the house and have a sale, so that my mom can put the house on the market.  But that will happen soon.  I'm ready to get this all done.  My husband and I went out of town to shop last week, and as we sat in a restaurant having a nice lunch, I told him, "It is such a relief to know that Mam-ma is safe and sound, cared for and having fun doing what she is supposed to do.  I can relax and enjoy my lunch and the day - and I'm having a wonderful time."  I look forward to even more of this... and more quality days for my grandmother, as well.  I really can see light at the end of this tunnel!

Timothy visited us all day on Thursday.  How we have missed him the last couple of months.  We read, played with toys, watched "Jack's Big Music Show," went for strolls on a warm spring day and played outside.  It was a very good day... and at the end, Timothy found the full moon rising in the sky - the one we read about in his story books - and he pointed and showed everyone, "MOON!"  A very good day indeed.

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On another front, my 87-year-old cousin (I guess he's about my 3rd cousin), is really starting to decline.  He lives in a condominium on the same campus as my grandmother.  His wife died several years ago, and he has a companion now... a nice lady named Mary.  Last week, Mary fell as they left the local dance hall, and she broke her leg.  So she has had surgery to insert a rod in her leg, and she is in a hospital in a city 30 miles away.

My cousin has the onset of Alzheimer's.  He was diagnosed about 3 years ago, and honestly, I could just not see that at the time.  He still seemed good to me... told great stories and jokes - and remembered the punch lines - and he just seemed clear as a bell for his age.  But Mary told me that "he can't remember what I told him an hour ago.  Long term memory is fine, but the short-term is really bad."  On top of all of this, he has had heart bypass surgery and now has an aneurysm on his belly that is "very large and very long."  He saw a surgeon recently about having stents put in to relieve the aneurysm... he is not a candidate for conventional surgery.  To date, no one has called him with a surgery date.

The doctors say if this surgery is not performed, someday soon this aneurysm will rupture, and my cousin will simply be gone in an instant.  Doesn't sound all that bad to me (or my cousin)... until you factor in that my cousin still drives.. and he has been driving himself to this nearby city to visit his companion, Mary.  My mother talked with him sternly and told him flatly that he could kill someone else if this aneurysm ruptures while he is at the wheel.  He got friends to take him back and forth to the hospital the next two days.  But he drove himself around our town - to a local restaurant for breakfast, and who knows where else.

I stopped to visit with my cousin yesterday.  He has three grown children, but none live in our community - the closest is about 4 hours away.  They have been made aware of this situation.  I asked my cousin how he got to the hospital yesterday... he said two lady friends he knows from the dance hall took him.  I know one of these ladies, and she is capable of making this drive... and she is a very sweet lady.  My cousin said they were coming back for him last night for the dance.  I asked, "What time are they coming?"  "Oh, I don't know," he answered.  It was about 6:00 p.m., and I mentioned the time, and I asked, "What are you doing for dinner?"  He replied, "I don't remember if they said anything about dinner or not."  I offered to fix him something.  He said no thanks... he ate a handful of nuts and drank a Coke.

Then he said, "I really can't remember what they said about coming back.  I'm sure they are coming after me... I just don't know when."  His answering machine was blinking, and I said, "You have eight messages."  He replied, "I don't know how to get them off."  Now, even my Mam-ma can get her messages off the answering machine!  I offered to get them, and he said this would be great!  So I got the messages... and one was a cardiologist's office - he missed his telephone pacemaker check.  There was no message from the surgeon about a date for his aneurysm surgery, but I pointed out that he could easily miss a message for that by not checking his machine.  I offered to stop by again and check the messages, and he didn't say yes... but he didn't say no.

Also on the machine was a message from Mary's daughter - "Poppa... remember to take your medicine.  This is your reminder.  Take your medicine... okay?"  I asked... "Did you take your medicine?"  "Well," he answered, "I think I did."  He was recently hospitalized for pneumonia and is probably still on antibiotics, along with medications for blood pressure and other things related to his heart.  I really don't know.  My parting words to him were, "Remember to take your medicine."  He said, "I'll try - I think I have a couple more doses left."

You know those e-mail jokes that come around about people saying and doing stupid things, and the punch line is... "They walk among us!"?  Well, there are countless people like my cousin who have no business living alone unattended... much less DRIVING... who WALK AMONG US... and honestly, the highways and city streets are incredibly dangerous because of this!  I have vowed not to get too involved in this situation, much as I love this man, because honestly, I have plenty to worry about as it is... and he does have three... count 'em - THREE grown children (at least one of whom is retired) who could handle this!

I know this is the tip of the iceberg for what goes on in this country with regard to our elderly and how they are treated... and it's honestly no better for many of our children.  We often find ourselves encountering situations that involve both old and young people who "need a keeper!"  In this case, I simply refuse to be "It!"

What about you?  Do you have situations that you can share with others in this space... and are willing to do so?  Please use the link in the left sidebar to contact me and tell your story.  I will try to begin offering suggestions/solutions/encouragement to you in your own journey... utilizing some of the information I have gleaned from my experiences and the new insights I am sure I will gain from this leg of the journey involving an assisted living facility.  My prayer is that you are getting plenty of rest, taking care of yourself, and that you realize you are never alone in this Sandwich!

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Today, I stopped by my grandmother's house to drop of the clothes she doesn't want, so I can price them next week for the upcoming sale. I started sorting through her cookbooks, and I stumbled upon a spiral notebook, in which my grandmother had recorded something of a "journal" - lots of information and stories about her life as a young girl... and as a young wife and mother.  I felt these insights truly reflected the real Polly.  She was writing down her thoughts and recollections... not making a great story for someone else.  It was enlightening, and humbling as I read about how hard she worked even as a child... how she even made my grandfather's underwear from old feed sacks because that was all they could afford.

Over and over, as my grandmother told how hard she worked, she kept saying, "But we sure had fun."  She talked of how my she and my grandfather started their marriage with almost quite literally nothing... yet they loved each other and made their own way.  She talked of giving birth to my dad while living in a 3-room shanty... and how much they loved him.  She talked of struggles along the way and hard times... but she didn't complain... at least not in this journal.  She also spoke of how much she felt the Holy Spirit... and how vital her relationship with her Lord has been to her through the years.

My mom gave my grandmother this notebook and asked her to write down some things on the pages.  In the inside cover, Mom wrote this passage from Jeremiah 29:11... "For I know the plans I have for you," said the Lord... "plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."  I think it is fitting that God has allowed my grandmother to make this recent move... to live in the "lap of luxury" compared to much of her life.  I hope that she finds these weeks/months/years to be as filled with fun and love as the times she writes of in the journal... maybe even more.  As I see it, God is still providing her with plans for a good future filled with hope... His reward for her faithful service.  We should all be so blessed!

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