Visiting GGma

This past weekend I went to visit my aging grandmother (you may recall she is pushing 98 years old at the moment). A few months ago I helped her pack up her really dirty, messy hoarder house and relocate to a new place near my parents in Winchester, VA. I had hoped to visit her in March but that got waylaid when my cousin decided to go see her the same weekend I had picked. Then in April it got waylaid again because of my wedding anniversary, CootieGirl’s birthday, and Denis’s trip to Vegas for work. So finally, this past weekend, I was able to go and spend four days with her.

Her new house is nice. It’s mainly nice because only about 1/2 her stuff was unpacked once she arrived. The rest remains in the garage space and should pretty much just be ignored from here on out – there’s nothing there she needs. It’s a two bedroom, two bath, single-level home. Big open spaces, everything is new, and it’s in a cute over 65 neighborhood.

We didn’t quite do all I wanted to do while we were there, but that’s what happens when you visit over Mother’s Day weekend AND the weekend your cousin’s baby enjoys her first birthday. Because of a MD lunch and a birthday party, two of our afternoons were spoken for, and I was unable to take her around her new town and check out the “old people” things to do.

Despite this, it was a productive weekend. I did a lot of laundry, cleared out her fridge, took her to get her hair “washed and set,” helped her pay a couple bills, made sure she ate, made sure she got to bed at a decent hour (rather than catnapping on the sofa all night, which she probably does a lot). We also had a LOT of conversations about why she’s there, why she’s there, why she’s there, and basically, why she’s there. She still misses home a LOT. And that’s understandable since she lived there for 40 years. Denis has been gone from his beloved NYC for six years and he still threatens to move “back home” every now and again.

As for my general assessment, I think she’s okay physically. She’s definitely slower than she’s ever been, and in my opinion she needs a walker to help avoid another fall like the one she had last year that put her in the hospital for 3-4 days. I told her as much and she disagreed. I told her that she can’t always plan on the wall/counter/table/doorknob/chair being close enough or steady enough for her to lean on as she makes her way around the house/restaurant/church/whatever. Sadly, she doesn’t remember BEING in the hospital last year because of a fall, and I got the feeling she thought I was making the whole thing up when I mentioned it during our conversation. Her back was in a lot of pain while I was there, which limited her movement, but I’m convinced if she would lose the pride and admit she needs aid, a walker would do her a lot of good and would alleviate half of her physical limitations.

Her other physical limitation is her hearing. She claims she can hear a pin drop, but when watching TV with the volume up quite high, she admitted she couldn’t understand a single thing anyone was saying. I would put on a variety of shows to see if any of them were any better, and no luck – no matter how slow and pedantic and unbusy the show was, she was unable to understand the plot or what the person was saying.

Now, as for the mental limitations – that’s another story. She regaled me with tales of her father owning the only TV for blocks and him hosting lavish parties so people could see Joe Louis boxing matches. But she couldn’t remember asking me if I had her key five minutes ago, asking me a second time and sometimes even a third a few minutes later. We’d hop in the car and she’d ask me a couple times where we were going. She called me by my cousin’s name many, many times during the weekend. She’d look at pictures on her digital frame and would periodically ask, “Who was that?” when the picture flickered by too fast for her brain to process the image.

I feel like I’ve finally got a handle on her abilities, her disabilities, and where she should go from here. It’s hard coming to conclusions when you only have the information given to you in random, sparse emails from family members. But now I’ve been with her for four days straight, non-stop, so I have a much clearer picture.

1) Physically she’s in pretty good shape for a 98-year-old, but definitely needs a walker.

2) She is lonely. While I was there I took steps to get her out more. I called the woman in charge of her neighborhood’s activity group and asked if a ride was available to their regular Monday night games (they alternate Bunco and Bingo). She said there was definitely something available, and so I’m hoping my aunt and uncle can get that set up so that when GGma is back home in a couple weeks (she’s staying with them while my parents are out of town on vacation) that she can end up with a regular Monday night ride to the center. I also left voicemails for two people who have expressed an interest in getting up a game of Bridge, which is my grandmother’s favorite card game. I let those two people know that we need at least one more player, so hopefully one of them knows someone so that a regular weekly game can be set up for my grandmother to play. I also think that the activities board needs to come up with more for folks to do. There are so many things that they can implement! Book club, walking club, gardening club, movie club (if the activity center has a TV and DVD player, just rent a black and white classic movie and make popcorn for everyone), knitting club – the opportunities are almost limitless, in my opinion. Having something only one night a week seems like a giant waste to me. Man, if I lived closer, I’d get involved in that community really quick and get things going. And I don’t even care that I’m not a resident or over the age of 65.

3) She desperately wants to find a church that is more in keeping with what she knows and enjoys. My parents have been taking her to their church, which is big and modern. My GGma’s old church had MAYBE 100 people in attendance every week, had a 10 person choir who sang along with a piano and organ, and everyone knew everyone. That’s what she wants. In doing searches, I found two potential churches that would fit the bill, AND one of them has a transportation ministry that picks up congregants that cannot drive themselves. SCORE! My uncle asked that I email him links to the two churches and he’d arrange for her to visit them both and see if she likes them. If so, then she’ll probably feel much happier knowing she at least has a church she loves despite missing all her friends.

4) I don’t think she needs assisted living. My parents mentioned the dreaded AL words a few weeks ago, and I’m not sure it’s the way to go at this point in time. She definitely needs her days to be filled up with SOMEthing other than catnapping on the sofa. Whether that’s at an adult day care, or in-home care from a service such as Visiting Angels, I think that she’s at a place right now where going into an Assisted Living facility is giving up too easily. Adult Day Care or in-home care is definitely a better option for right now. In the future (6 months? A year?) that could change, but as of my experience this weekend, I don’t think AL would be good for her.

There’s so much more I could say, but I know you are probably bored out of your mind with this post. This is more for my family to read than anyone else. I wanted to get my thoughts down while they are still fresh.

I’ll admit I’m still sad she didn’t come to check out SC before the decision was made to move her to Winchester. I think she’d have liked Fort Mill a lot, and there just seem (to me) to be a lot more resources here, in addition to small country churches, a large elderly population, and a much cheaper rent than what she’s now paying. Alas, the lease was signed before I could say, “Okay, let me show her my town now.”

I enjoyed taking care of her this weekend. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m good at it. I didn’t mind doing it – I didn’t mind repeating myself 20 times, or helping her in the bathroom, or washing the same set of sheets three times, or helping her walk absolutely everywhere we went. Sure, there were moments of melancholy as the fact of her advanced age struck home hard (after all, this is the woman who taught me – by example – how to waterski when she was 73 years old, and went parasailing in Mexico when she was 83). But even in the moments of melancholy, I was happy to see occasional sparks of her old, playful nature sneak through. She is not going gently into that good night, and I’m glad for that. She’s cranky and crotchety, but also sweet and tender. She appreciates help but doesn’t want to be coddled. She enjoys company but doesn’t want to be a burden.

When I left I told her that I would try to come again, possibly in September or October. I’m hoping she’ll still be in that house, and that the two of us can have a grand old time together while I’m there.

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  1. J – I just adore your writings & musings; you had me laughing at several points during this piece – I can totally picture you & she jaunting around town & repeating things over and over to each other. I actually felt at times as if I were in the back of the car driving with you guys!
    However, one thing stuck me, you mentioned her short term memory loss and the fact her memory of years gone by is sharp as a tack …. Has she seen a doctor about the short-term issues?

  2. Also Jaynie, don’t forget about closed captioning for the TV! It’s made for people who are losing their hearing, not just deaf people.

  3. MBM: she’s been to the doctor about a lot of things and I think at this point her lack of memory is due to lack of nutrition (she doesn’t eat much anymore and when you “force” her she still only takes a few bites) and lack of mental engagement (studies have shown that people that engage their brains with puzzles and mindteasers are able to keep the short term memory in better shape).

  4. Gwen: that WOULD be a good idea, but I also don’t think her eyes are as sharp as they were even a year ago. And TV is so fast-paced nowadays compared to even just 4-5 years ago that I don’t think she’d be able to keep up with the CC on the TV either.

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