Saturday, August 20, 2011

It's the In-between That's Worrisome...

As I prepared dinner a few nights ago, I asked my husband, "Did you hear on the news that Robert Redford is 75 today?"  He responded.  About 20 minutes later, we sat down to dinner, and during the course of the meal, I turned to my husband and asked, "Did you hear on the news that Robert Redford is 75 today?"  He looked at me like I had just grown a third eye.  "I asked you that already, didn't I?" I said as I shrunk down in my chair, totally embarrassed.  "Yes," he answered.  "What was your answer?" I countered.  It's the little things that make you wonder if you are really losing it ... or if you just temporarily tripped a breaker somewhere.  I'm hoping for the latter!

So when I visited my grandmother today, every other sentence she began ended in, "I don't know," or "I forgot what I was going to say."  This has not been a good week.  Timothy's family has been here for a visit (and that is a good thing), and when my niece took the babies to see Mam-ma on Wednesday, she was lying in bed and said she was dizzy and did not feel well enough for company.  I queried the nurse, who said all vital signs were good.  However, when she arrived for work that morning, Mam-ma was sitting on the front porch wearing a thick sweater that was buttoned up all the way under her chin.  We are still in the middle of an oppressive heat wave, with morning temps in the upper 80s and extremely high humidity, giving us some record heat indexes.

Lola, the nurse, asked my grandmother, "What are you trying to do - give yourself a heat stroke?"  I think she made Mam-ma go inside.  Then she discovered that Mam-ma was dizzy - and she said she had not slept the night before because she refused to take her Ativan (a prescription drug she takes in a very low dose for anxiety and as a night-time sleep aid).  The nurse told me, "I know what is happening... I overheard enough of a conversation in the dining room to know that the little ladies at Polly's table have convinced her she shouldn't be taking something at night to help her sleep."

When I talked with my grandmother later, she said she had tried to cut out her Ativan, because... "I don't want to get hooked on drugs."  She also claimed her sweater was a very light jacket over a very thin blouse.  I seriously doubt it.  I've seen her sweaters and blouses.  At any rate, I told her to take the Ativan and quit worrying about it... she needs a good night's rest.  Lola told her that overheating and not sleeping were enough to make anyone dizzy and feeling badly.

So today when I went to visit, Mam-ma was in the dining room listening to some live music.  However, she quickly told me she was not well, and we went to her room to visit.  She claims she is still dizzy.  We visited about a funeral I had just attended for a man who was a deacon in her church and a lifelong friend.  I told her neat things that had been posted on Facebook - recollections from former students who rode her school bus.  And I told her about delivering Meals on Wheels to an old friend of hers who worked at a local Piggly Wiggly "back in the day" with Mam-ma's sister.  Then we walked down the hall to visit my birthday buddy, MawMac, who is also a dear friend of my grandmother's.  She's not doing so well these days, but she enjoyed our visit.

When we returned to Mam-ma's room, she told me she was not going to go to tea ... that she had not been in over a week, primarily because she is not able to remember what she wants to say, and it's embarrassing to her.  MawMac had just told me how much she enjoys my grandmother's visits - and Mam-ma barely said a word while we were there.  I pointed this out and said, "You don't have to say anything - those ladies want you there... even if you don't say a word.  All you have to do is walk down to MawMac's room and hold her hand, and she is happy you came for a visit - and it's the same for your tea ladies."  I also told her I bet the tea ladies were missing her... and she replied, "Well, I'm missing them."  So she agreed to give it another try.

But when I mentioned leaving, she said, "I wish you would come more often," and she began to cry.  This was about the fourth time she had broken down and cried today, but usually it's over fairly quickly as she remembers something sad and then recovers.  This time was different.  I asked what was wrong, and she said, "Well, I know you are busy," and I laughed and said, "Mam-ma - you are busy, too!"  She said, "I know it, but things are changing."  I took that to mean her inability to string thoughts together well these days, and a general decline in her overall well-being.  I told her, "Mam-ma, I want you to live a long, long time.  But I will tell you, the day you go to heaven, I'm not going to be sad, because you will be a whole lot happier than the rest of us!"  She agreed... and said, "That's not it." 

It took her awhile, but she finally said, "I'm not afraid of dying... it's the in-between that worries me."  I told her I could understand, but we don't get to choose that.  I asked if she was worried about suffering, and she shook her head, "No!"  She was finally able to tell me that she doesn't want to be a burden.  I assured her she would not be - that she is not a burden now, and she never will be.  Whatever happens, we will deal with it.

I also explained that she can live out her days in her apartment.  The facility has Hospice, and barring something that would cause her to have to be hospitalized, she can stay right where she is for the rest of her life.  She said she didn't know that.  I assured her that she was surrounded by people who love her and care about her... she has a resident doctor, nurses, and there can be Hospice nurses if/when they are needed.  She will never be a burden.

Part of this is melodrama on my grandmother's part...her specialty!  But part of it is a genuine realization - brought home by almost a half dozen funerals for friends and acquaintances in rather short order - that her life is winding down.  Mam-ma will be 99 in November.  She sees the rapid decline of our friend, MawMac, who is only 93... and she has seen friends get sick one week and die the next.  She knows how quickly things can change.  On top of this, it bothers her greatly that my niece has moved her family to Texas, more than 7 hours away.  She even told my niece, "I will try to live until you come home for Christmas." (Yes, she is a drama queen!)

I assured Mam-ma that I would visit more often... and I will.  Timothy is here for an extended visit, and we will go and see her.  But I cannot stop the clock... or the aging process.  I have no control over my grandmother's last days/weeks/months on this earth - nor how the end will come.  I also know that I could die before she does. A business friend of mine died in a motorcycle accident just last week at age 55.  None of us is promised another day!

So I think my take-away for this post is that a lot of times we don't really know what is bothering our seniors... and they can't seem to put it into words.  But it just may be that they are wrestling with their own mortality.  I told Mam-ma today that I don't want her to spend her time worrying about what is going to happen to her - or how and when she will die.  I want her to be busy enjoying her life and being happy.  The rest will take care of itself.  I also hugged her tightly as she sobbed and told her that we have been through far too much already to fall apart now.  And I used one of her favorite phrases (with a chuckle) and told her to "dry it up!"  She laughed.

Tomorrow, my grandmother may not remember our conversation... and I have no doubt that we will have these teary encounters again... and I will once again reassure her that she will always be loved and cared for - and all of her needs will be met.  Meanwhile, I am going to make an effort to visit more often and hope that encourages her... and I am going to try to be patient and listen - let her vent her frustrations and worries.  I'm going to remind myself that knowing that the end of one's life is imminent is daunting... no matter how strong your faith is or how excited you are to get to Heaven and reunite with loved ones there.

When Mam-ma complained today of not being able to get her thoughts together and remember what she wanted to say, I shared my "Robert Redford" story and told her it happens to all of us... even those in our 50s instead of our 90s... and she laughed.  We still have lots of miles left in this journey, hopefully... and I want them to be happy, productive ones - for Mam-ma, and for us.  I just hope I can remember what I told her the last time I visited!

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