December 25, 2005

Holidays are hard

Holidays are hard! I hear that from my friends too.

This year was tough for me. On Christmas Eve, I went to see my grandma in the Nursing Home in Foley, MN. She has really gone downhill in the 5 months she has been there. She no longer walks at all. She cannot even stand on her own, but she forgets that and tries to, then falls from her bed. Now they basically have her 8 inches off the floor when she sleeps, so that she doesn’t injure herself too much. She isn’t going to improve. She isn’t getting enough blood to her brain, her heart is failing, and she has so little strength and muscle mass left. This was the first time she couldn’t remember who I was. This is hard. She seemed to always remember me before. We had grandma home to the farm for Thanksgiving, but she couldn’t figure out where she was, and she had lived there for 60 years of her life. She didn’t realize why we wanted to “move? her that day. She just wanted to eat in the cafeteria at the nursing home. On Christmas eve, she had no sense that it was Christmas. She didn’t know my brother either. She couldn’t come up with my Dad’s name or his wife’s name. She gives us names or titles, she called me the judge. Dad was the Emcee.

We know her hearing is bad, sometimes she can respond, and other times she seems to not even notice you are talking. She looks like she is ready to say things sometimes, and takes a breath to say them, but then just gets a puzzled look on her face. I wonder what it is like for her. She seems happy when people are around. My dad, his wife, my brother, and I included her in a circle. She didn’t participate in the conversation, but seemed to enjoy looking at us. Periodically, she will say something that seems to belong in the middle of another conversation, or a completely different era, talking about people, in the present tense, who have been long dead or not involved in her life. She keeps inviting her mom and dad to dinner, but gets frustrated because no one seems to tell them that she wants them to come over for dinner and they still haven’t come. They have been dead for 40 years.

This really puts things in a strange existential world. I hold her hand. She smiles. I wonder what the smile means. I’m guessing she likes it, but I really can’t tell. I wonder who she thinks is holding her hand. Before she got up out of bed, I rubbed her feet through her support stockings. She made a moaning sound that sounded like it felt really good, so i continued.

As I was visiting with her in her room, she reached up on top of her TV where my aunt had left her a plate with a dozen or so grapes on it. I let her do the reaching and grabbing. It is best to have her do what she can to maintain what movement and strength she does have. She manages to get a grape down and eat it. She likes it. She reaches for another. Her hand is moving like it is trying to tear the grape off the stem, but they are already off the stem. She looks at me, smiles, and I will let her continue to struggle, but she stops. Her hand remains on top of the TV, with a grape in it, still resting on the plate. She continues to sit there, no movement. I try to talk some more with her. I wonder if my talking is bugging her, but I continue. There are also periods of silence, where I just look at her and smile. Maybe that feels good, she smiles back. Her hand is still sitting on the plate, it’s been a few minutes, and I notice her hand starting to move. I ask her what she is doing. She says, “I can’t get it off.? So I stand up, and slowly help her get her hand off the TV, it’s like she forget she had a hand and how to work it. When she gets her hand down, she must feel the grape still in her hand, looks at it, and says, “What is this?? She has forgotten what she was doing and what this round purple thing is for. I suggest that she eat it, and she does. I smile because I am with her. She is slipping away before us. I know this could be the last time she smiles at me. She calls me “Sir Matthew?, and I am overjoyed, I’m not sure where the “Sir? came from, but she got my name! She rarely called me Matthew though, as far I can remember, it was always “Matt?. I know this could be the last time I see her alive and know this is probably the last time I may hear her say my name. Her roommate has a little tree on her dresser, and I ask my grandma what that tree is for. She knows it is a “Christmas tree?. I ask her what season it is. I remind her that it is December, she just says, “March, uh, May?. I tell her that this is the season when Jesus was born. No connection. I tell her it is Christmas tomorrow, she has a blank look on her face, like she can hear me, but that she has no comprehension of what that means.

Later, after the rest of my family arrived, and we visited for about a half hour, and she was falling asleep, we wheeled her back to her room. She asked us where we were going. My dad’s wife said we were going to church. She got a puzzled look on her face. I just smile, and give her a kiss and a hug and tell her “I love you.? She says, “I love you too.? I feel good about the visit.

At Thanksgiving, when I visited her last (damn finals and everything have kept me too busy), as my cousin and I were bringing her back from the farm to the nursing home and we were just sitting with her in her room, she started crying and making loud crying noises. My cousin, Barb, and I asked Grandma why she is sad. She says that she doesn’t know. “I’m just so sad.? Then she asks “what will happen to me?? We answer that people are going to take care of her here, that she will have meals, and everything. She asks, “When can I go back to her apartment?? I tell her that she isn’t healthy enough to go back to her apartment. She asks if she is going to get better. The tears well up in my eyes now too. I tell her that we don’t think she is going to get healthier again. She asks if that means she is going to die. She cries harder and I say, “I think so.? Barb tells her that it is time for her to go be with Archie (my grandpa), and Gene (my uncle-her son, who died about a year ago). She continues crying. She looks at us, and asks, “What’s going to happen to me until then?? I tell her that she will be taken care of, in the nursing home. She seems happy there, since she is getting 3 meals a day, and a warm place, and people coming to visit alot, things she wasn’t getting in her apartment. She tells me that she doesn’t have money for here. I tell her that Jill (my dad’s wife) is paying it for her. She is on medical assistance, and Jill is handling the monetary stuff. The nursing aide comes in and puts grandma into her bed, covering her up, taking off her shoes, etc. I go to give her a hug and a kiss. She manages to give me a hug and holds on. She tells me that she’s been so proud of me and that I’ve been a good boy. Tears are running down my cheek. She has said goodbye. I told her how much I’ve appreciated her and loved her. We say goodbye, and I let Barb say her goodbyes. Barb is crying hard now. (Barb is the oldest sibling in her family, and grandma has a close tie with both of us.) I’m ready for her to die. I hope she can be at peace as it happens. Who knows how much longer she’ll live?

I am at peace with her dying, as long as she is comfortable. She seems comfortable with all this. Next time I go, I’ll bring my blessing oils and bless her. I might even say communion with her (and her roommate) even though I’m not ordained yet. It is something I could give to her. She always loved hearing me preach and offer prayers when I led worship at her church. She probably won’t live to see me ordained, if I do get ordained.

Posted by eich0041 at December 25, 2005 8:00 PM