2003-01-02 - 10:18 a.m.
Missouri and the grandparents
Okay, so I've been back a couple of days. Sue me.
Missouri. Both better and worse than I expected.
Before anything else. "Egg Gravy". Hard-boiled eggs, chipped beef and what seemed like congealed bile, served on toast. Vile beyond accounting. AuntUgh started making comments about how nobody liked it (which were true) and some ridiculous thing in me, desiring to be a good guest, decided to take one for the team. I had seconds. And tried not to think of vomit on toast. I won't even mention the jello salad.
Grandma recognized us as her grandkids. Our names she wasn't so sure about until reminded. Her short-term memory is pretty shot. She loses her purse about twenty times a day. She asks Grandpa if he's cold about a hundred times a day. She gets confused about things. She thinks her mother's still alive, sometimes, and in another room in the nursing home (Grandma's mom died when I was five). Every night, she gets really upset that she has to leave Grandpa. She doesn't understand why she has to go. Over lunch, my cousin told me that there's a chance she has Alzheimers. Though they didn't think she'd sit still through an MRI, so we won't really know for sure, maybe not ever. My sisters and I gave her a stuffed bunny when we arrived. She tried to give it to AuntUgh several times, thinking it was not hers. So we put a tag on it saying it was hers. She thanked us for as if she'd never seen it about a dozen times. She stays with BaldUncle and AuntUgh now. Their house is only a five-minute drive from the nursing home, and she can't stay alone.
Grandpa, on the other hand, is still as sharp as a tack. You ask him how he is, and he's most likely going to say "Ornery as ever" then laugh that wheezing laugh of his. Though these days the laugh often ends in a coughing fit. Here are the signs that he's improving. The infection in his lungs cleared up. The swelling in his arms and legs went down, meaning that his kidney is starting to work a little better (and why did I never hear before now that Grandpa was born with one kidney?). He can sit up in a chair. He has the strength to feed himself. These are signs of improvement.
The room that he stays in is depressing as hell. There's a bed, and a wheelchair. There are three chairs for visitors, and from any of these, you can reach out and touch his bed. There is a small bathroom, with a fan that runs continually. On the sink is a bottle of Soothe and Cool perineal wash. There is the little Christmas tree that Mom sent, and the month-dead flowers that the sisters and I sent. On the wall is a picture of the nativity. (In one of his more alert moments, Grandpa pointed out the lamb and said "Look at his face. He knows what's going on." It's the start of a sermon I've heard from him before.) There is no television. They had one but he had it taken out. There is no radio. BaldUncle brought one up, but Grandpa told him to take it back. There are no newspapers or books. Most telling of all to me, there is no Bible.
I don't know what Grandpa thinks about all day. Grandma sits in the room with him for twelve hours. Mostly she just frets and fusses over him, and asks him the same questions over and over. Sometimes I thought he was preparing himself for death. Other times, he seemed to be obsessed with the idea of getting back home.
Neither of them is ever going home again. Grandpa needs constant care. His heart has been working at 30% capacity for two months now. Two heart attacks, two bypass surgeries, and a decade of smoking. Grandma can't take care of herself, much less Grandpa.
These are some of the things that Grandpa talked about. There was a pair of fingernail clippers that he wanted. He tried to explain where he'd left them, back at home, so we could get them for him. There was a button broken on the remote control for his VCR, and he was worried that we might try to use it and not be able to. (We were staying at a hotel, thirty minutes drive from his house). He knew that on the day we'd arrived, it was the highest temperature on record for that day. He didn't know how he knew that. Mostly he slept.
He did say to me that he's proud of me. That he thought I'd done well in the world, and that I knew what was important. It had been four years since I'd been out to visit, and it meant a lot to him that I made this visit.
It meant a lot to me as well. I needed this trip. Almost more to make peace with myself than for anything I had to say to them. I needed to show them that I care, and I needed to see Grandpa at least one more time.
I'm not really sure if I'm scared of Death or not. To be honest, I just don't know. I do know that I'm terrified of old age. I'm terrified to find myself in Grandpa's shoes. I don't see how in his position, I could do anything but despair.
Be he doesn't seem to. Maybe he's putting on a good face for us. Maybe he's not aware of the severity of the situation (though I can't see how he couldn't be). Maybe it's his faith in God that's a comfort to him now. I don't know. He's there, and he's still as ornery as ever. And I love him so much that it kills me to see him like this.
I remember Grandpa as a strong, strong man. Even into his sixties, when his limp was pronounced, and he seemed to be getting smaller with every year, he could still go about the grueling work of a farmer. He had rough, beat up hands of surprising strength and surprising gentleness. Now those hands tremble holding a spoon, and are covered with bruises from the blood thinners.
I love him so much that it kills me to see him like this, and I hate myself for the fleeting thought that it'll be better when it's over.
I'll update soon about New Year's Eve, and impending uncle-hood (again) and other things. Right now I have a long To Do list to get after.