Something Keeps Me Holding on to Nothing

December 16, 2010
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My grandpa was gone before I ever had the chance to say goodbye. There are lots of things I regret in my life, and not saying goodbye to him is up near the top of the list. My other big regret; well, that’s not spending more time with my Grandma before she got dementia. I didn’t know how horrible this disease really was. You’re probably thinking, “That’s horrible!”, and it’s been hard to finally face the fact that It is pretty horrible.

The summer of 2010, just as summer was fading into fall, we visited Grammy. I didn’t know what to expect. The last time I’d seen her had been about two and a half years ago. She had seemed forgetful then, but I didn’t think it could get worse. As I stepped into the cool, air-conditioned building, I recalled an earlier conversation with my mom.

“Why couldn’t Grammy move near us? We could’ve visited her every day! Does Susan (my mom’s sister) even visit her often?” I asked my mom.

“Susan didn’t want to use Grandpa’s money to put her in the nursing home in Fairfield. When the lady who works at the nursing home called she said Susan doesn’t even visit her often. And apparently Susan doesn’t even buy her clothes,” my mom admitted. I didn’t know what to think. Susan hadn’t been returning our calls, and I guess I hadn’t understood how quickly things were escalating from good to bad.

“Why can’t Susan buy her clothes with the money she inherited from Grandpa?” I offered.

“I don’t know. I can’t make Susan pay because she can do what she wants with the money, but she should be doing the right thing for her own mother,” my mom informed me. I felt anger creeping over me. Anger that I couldn’t do anything, and anger that Susan didn’t buy her own mother clothes. If she can’t afford to buy her clothes, then how is she paying for Grammy to live in the nursing home? There were so many questions that occupied my mind, but no answers.

As I looked around the nursing home, I tried to remember any knowledge I had about dementia. I knew it worked slowly before critically affecting a person, but that’s all I knew. How slow? Will she remember me? I could only wait and see.

It smelled like flowers; flowers, laundry detergent, and old people. It also wasn’t as nice as the nursing home in Fairfield. My sister, mom, and I checked in, and were instructed to go to floor 3. We found the elevator without an incident, and soon found ourselves admiring a calendar of events for the residents. Maybe Grammy has fun here, I thought.

When we got off at her floor, I noticed every door was open. Unfortunately, some things I saw were heartbreaking. We assumed Grammy would be in her room; so we continued down the hallway until we found it. She wasn’t there. We kept walking down the hall to the recreation room.

My heart stopped when I spotted her. Her head was thrown back; like a tired person would look when they are exhausted, eyes closed, just sitting there idly.

“Grammy!” my sister and I said. She looked up, seemingly startled. We each hugged her quickly; hoping a hug could make everything better. She opened her eyes to examine us, mumbled some in-comprehendible word, and then started crying.

“Grammy?” I whispered, thinking the inevitable.
I close my eyes and see her holding my hand, strolling through my backyard on a lazy summer day. I see my mom and me in the car, picking her up at the ferry boat station so she could come home and babysit me for the day. She would buy me soft pretzels from the ferry; they would always be too salty, but I didn’t care. I see us sitting on my front steps of my house, together, happy. Those are the days I remember best, and the only days I want to remember. I open my eyes again, and reality comes flooding back like an enormous ocean wave. I watch my mom and sister cry, but I stand there holding it all in.

She couldn’t talk. I could never have a normal conversation with my grandma again. Now I wish I could go back and spend more time with her, but I know it’s too late.

We spent the rest of the day wheeling her around the nursing home. I wanted to know what she thought. What made her happy? Does she enjoy being here? I would never be able to tell. Grammy cried a lot, and I didn’t know why. The lady who worked there said she did it a lot, but it led me to think she didn’t like it there. Was she crying out of frustration? If I couldn’t talk I probably would. I really wanted to know if she understood what we were saying; that’s just one more thing that makes seeing Grammy with dementia so hard for me to deal with.

We went into her room to see what it was like. It was okay, it wasn’t the nicest room ever, but it was livable. I was happy to see there were pictures on her wall. At least she could be reminded of her children, grandchildren, husband, and other important people. As I looked closer, I saw they weren’t her pictures, but her roommate’s. Her side of the room had only one picture of some of her grandchildren. One picture. It wasn’t fair; she didn’t deserve to live like this. Before leaving earlier that day, I had picked a picture of my sister and me to bring and hang on her wall. Lucky me, they’ll be just enough room. I know I shouldn’t have gotten so mad over her lack of photos, but it infuriated me. My family and I live 4 hours away, and Susan lives 20 minutes away. If she’s not going to buy Grammy clothes, an essential, the least she could do is hang priceless pictures on her walls. I grabbed a pin, tacked the picture up, and wiped away a tear.

This world isn’t perfect, in fact it’s as distant from perfect as it can get. I make mistakes; I wish I could take things back, and now I’ve finally come to my senses and realized this. If I could go back to one of those lazy summer days, I would stay there with Grammy, talking to her all day. Little did I know that pretty soon she wouldn’t be able to talk at all. I wouldn’t have to guess what she was saying, or watch her cry as I stand there helplessly. This is a hard process, and it’s affecting everyone, not just me. When I think of Grammy, I think of the days she would hold my hand and we’d blow bubbles in my backyard. In the end, I know these are the memories that will get me through this challenging time.





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