Memento

I’m sandwiched right now, and it really, really sucks. I’m not sure how i”m going to get through the next week, except that I know that this will only last a week more, and then I can go home. That, and the knowledge that what I’m doing right now is really, really helpful, and there is nobody else to do it.

What the hell am I talking about? Here’s the story.

I got a call from my Great-aunt Doris a few weeks ago telling me that my grandfather had been taken to the hospital for a massive heart attack. He’s 89 and has been in poor health for many years. So it was no surprise, but also not exactly good news, because my grandmother is in decent health for 88 years old, but she has dementia and doesn’t remember things from one moment to the next. It’s very much like the movie Memento, except without the murder mystery.

Well, there is actually plenty of mystery at the moment, but it consists of trying to answer questions like, “Where did the deed to the house go?” and “What assets do my grandparents own?” and “Did they already make funeral arrangements previously, or does this need to be done now?” and about a million others. It’s no use asking my grandmother about them, because she has no idea. I’m just going through stacks and stacks of documents mixed with piles of junk mail for various sketchy health supplements and bullshit cures that are supposed to do everything from cure cancer to toenail fungus. Every once in a while I find something important, like an unpaid credit card bill from Chase for $606, which apparently stems from a fraudulent charge back in May for $348 that has accrued a finance charges and late fees from being unpaid. My grandmother disregarded it, since she doesn’t even have a Chase card in her wallet and doesn’t ever remember having one.

Another mystery…what happened to that credit card? Was it stolen?

But back to the story. I was plenty worried when I heard from my Auntie Doris, but at the same time I wasn’t sure if this was a temporary health crisis or not. I knew whatever it was that it was BAD, and that I probably SHOULD go down to help no matter what, but being 8 months pregnant with a 3 year old, and both of us having bad colds and barely able to breathe, I wasn’t going to come down and give a bunch of sick elderly people a potentially fatal respiratory infection on top of everything else, especially not while I *myself* was too sick to take care of anyone.

So I stayed home and worried. I called my grandmother and she was very upset and confused. My grandfather was still in the hospital, but he was coming home on and off. I honestly don’t know how she was taking care of him. She’s frail, skin and bones, and he was almost completely bedridden. She moved him from bed to chair and back again once a day, and I don’t know how she did it. Well, he is skin and bones too, but still.

Finally I got a call from Auntie Doris that he was back in the hospital and the end was near. He had developed pneumonia, which is pretty much the death sentence for bedridden elderly people. It turned out too that he hadn’t had a heart attack, but congestive heart failure, so it wasn’t quite as bad as a massive heart attack, but the result was basically the same. Old age was just pretty much kicking his ass for good.

Julian and I were over our horrendous colds by that point, so it was time to go. I bought a plane ticket for the next day, canceled whatever I could remember being on my schedule, hung up a “closed until November 29th” sign on my website, and ran around for the next 24 hours frantically preparing to be gone for a week and a half.

Of course I threw out my back right before we left. That sucked. It still really, really, sucks right now. And to top it all off, I slipped on some flattened boxes in the garage and messed up my pelvis even worse than it already is. Pregnancy has loosened all my tendons and ligaments and joints, especially those in my pelvis, which makes it loose and wobbly and knocks my tailbone and lower spine out of alignment (stabbing back pains), PLUS the tendon holding the two halves of my pelvis together in front is completely inflamed and sore. When I step on one leg it’s like fire shooting down the front of my pelvis. Walking makes it worse, so does carrying any kind of load. And I didn’t have room on the plane to bring a stroller with me, so I’m doing a lot of Julian-carrying these days, plus a lot of various other load-carrying as I clean up and move piles of junk around, do loads of laundry, buy groceries and stuff like that. There’s just no getting around it.

Whatever. I’ll recover once I have this baby and all my tendons and stuff firm back up. Just right now it hurts like a motherfucker. I lurch and waddle around like a peg-legged cripple and sit down every chance I get. Every step is painful. If only I could take some ibuprofen, but that’s out.

Back to the story…I flew down with Julian to Burbank, got a ride to Auntie Doris’ house in Arcadia (thanks to my loving husband, who set up a car service for me. I shudder to think about the hell I would have gone through trying to take Super Shuttle as I had planned), then we all drove in her vintage Cadillac Sedan deVille to Seal Beach to collect my grandmother.

Auntie Doris is 83 and doesn’t drive anymore, but she still has her car and generously offered it for me to use during my stay down here in Southern California. Did I mention that I totally hate it here? Well, I do. Just looking at the map before I came made my skin crawl. The endless sprawl, the dirty air, the nightmarish traffic, the total lack of green open space, the right-wing Naziesque groupthink of Orange County’s TV stations and newspapers. It’s like Blade Runner or something. No kidding, there was a headline in the Orange County Register this morning that said, “The bright side of global warming!” Mmmmmmkaaayyyyy. Yeah, global warming is great, didn’t you know? Let’s talk about the upside!

We arrived to pick up my grandmother and it was a shock. She has always been impeccably made up and coiffed, and dressed up nicely even when she didn’t expect to leave the house that day. Now her hair is gray and unkempt. No makeup. She is skin and bones, clothing hanging off her. She has a large hump in her spine, like it has just collapsed over onto itself. I also saw when she got dressed that she has a big lump on her buttock, like a fleshy tumour of some sort. Memory is worse than ever. She just can’t keep a thought in her head for more than a minute or two. She can’t see too well, and she doesn’t hear well either. It’s awful, just awful.

Then we piled back in the car to go see my grandfather. He is basically in an end-of-life hospice center. Another shock. Just a pile of skin and bones with a death’s head on top, gasping for air, totally blind, unable to speak more than a single understandable word at a time. Lots of mumbling that we couldn’t figure out the first few days. I heard him say, “I always was lazy,” the first day, trying to crack a joke, and on the second day he called out my name and my mom’s name. I was trying to give him a drink of water and I heard him say “More water,” when I asked him if he wanted more, but apart from that it’s just noise.
Today he didn’t speak at all. He has slipped into unconsciousness. I really hope the end is near. This is horrible. My grandmother is just going crazy from the strain. She knows that he’s going, but then sometimes she gets upset and confused and says that everything will be better when he comes back home. I don’t know whether to tell her that he’s not coming back home, or just roll with it. At first I was telling her, but now I just give her a hug.

So I’m just dealing the best I can right now. I’ve set up power of attorney so that I can deal with my grandmother’s identity theft and credit card fraud, and help get her life back in order. I’m trying to set up Meals on Wheels and weekly home care for her, all the things that my mom tried to do a few years ago, but my stubborn grandfather blocked.

I should set up a Living Trust while I’m here too, but I can’t find the documents for the house (which we need) and also it costs $500-900, and it will be a pretty involved process, which I don’t want to put my grandmother through right now. Just going to do the power of attorney was bad enough. They don’t have very many assets, so it’s not something that we need to do, it would just make things easier to manage when they do both go, but I guess it’s no big deal. I think I’m just going to skip it. It’s peace of mind for *me*, but doesn’t make a difference to my grandmother’s life right now. The important thing was to get power of attorney so that I can help her make decisions and fix the current issues. That’s done. Whew.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and everything is closed, so I’m going to go through the whole house and do a major inpection and cleaning up. She keeps a tidy house still, but there is a bunch of junk mail laying around, dusty old stuffed animals and frilly ribbons from presents stuck onto things. I did three loads of laundry today. The towels in the bathroom were filthy, the washcloth that she was using was dirty and scuzzy and almost worn through. The carpet is filthy and needs cleaning. It smells like pee in the bedroom. The toilet paper roll holder has been torn off the wall. It’s sad and depressing and horrifying. Tidy on the surface, but underneath it’s filthy.

There are two neighbors who have been helping out, both eldery men. They are pretty sharp and are filling me in on what needs to be done.

One of them came over today and asked me, “By the way, do you know how long she has been wearing that outfit there?” I had noticed that she had worn the same red sweater and black pants since I had arrived, but it had only been 2-3 days, so I figured that wasn’t too bad.

“Hell, she’s had it on for a few WEEKS at least! That’s just not right. I didn’t notice myself, but the physical therapist the hospital saw that she’s had it on every time she comes to visit. She pulled me aside and told me that poor lady needs help.”

He said all this in front of my grandmother, and she was mortified, which I didn’t appreciate, but she forgot about it pretty quickly, so there’s the upside to short-term memory loss, I guess.

I took her into her bedroom to find her another outfit to wear. Another bad surprise, she has no appropriate clothing! She apparently hasn’t bought any clothing for herself in about 30 years, since she moved back here from Florida. She has a million short-sleeved shirts and silky office-type blouses, tailored pants and skirts and high-heeled pumps. Everything in the closet is too big for her, now warm enough (she’s always cold), and uncomfortable to the point of being dangerous (like the high-heeled shoes she’s been wearing).

I found one pair of elastic-waist pants, one short-sleeved silk sweater, and a wool turtleneck to wear over it. Exactly ONE acceptable outfit that she could change into. I did several weeks worth of laundry today and she had not a single clothing item in there, except what I took off her today. Amazing. Where are her underwear? I saw her take a clean pair out of the cupboard, and I saw her take a shower, so I guess she’s washing her underwear in the sink and keeping herself clean, but the clothing! Ugh.

Well, I’m going to go over to Ross or Kohl’s or something on Friday and see if I can hit some sales. Get her 4-5 new pairs of comfy pants, a bunch of long-sleeved shirts, and some sweaters. At least today she wasn’t complaining about being cold, though she WAS complaining mightily about the strangeness of wearing two layers of clothing when I first changed her outfit, and her pants feeling too big. But I guess she got over it.

Thank god, because she has been keeping the heat in the house at 83 degrees with all the windows closed, and I have been on the verge of suffocating. When I got here it was 90 degrees that day, strangely hot, and she STILL had the heat on inside and windows closed, and complained of feeling cold. Doris and I were just dying, practically gasping for air. I had to tear the door open at several points, just so I could breathe. So if I can get her into some warm comfy clothing, maybe we can solve the overheated house situation.

She eats pretty well when I cook for her and put a plate in front of her. But if no one cooks for her, I don’t think she eats. She barely ate a piece of toast the whole first day I was here, just drank coffee. Since then I have gotten three square meals a day into her, and she eats more and more each time. So that’s good. Eggs and meat and veggies and pasta and potatoes and all kinds of things. It can only help. She even had some dessert tonight, a little ice cream and cake.

Poor thing, she just needs looking after. My grandfather has always been such a difficult person, and he refused help from anyone for so long, letting the whole burden fall on my grandmother. It’s hard not to be mad at the old bastard when he’s laying there dying now, but man, he wore her out. She’s finally relaxing and allowing me to help her a bit now.

I keep telling her it’s OK, that at 88 years old no one expects her to do it all by herself, and that her job now is just to sit back, accept what help she is given and say, “Thank you very much.” She has worked like a slave her whole life, and now it’s time to stop and let others do things for her. I think without my grandfather around to make her feel like it’s a crime to accept help, she’ll be OK. Provided that I can line up the help, that is. Ugh.

Tonight I put out a clean nightgown for her, reminded her to take her heart medicine, put in the eyedrops that stand between her and blindness, got her in bed, covered her up…and she just let me help. So that’s a very good sign. I worry tremendously about what will happen once I leave though.

So the other thing that has been sucking about this week is juggling my grandmother and Julian. With her bad hearing and memory, you really need to say things to her in absolute quiet with no distractions going on. Of course, with Julian around, there is constant chatter and constant distraction and constant background noise. Either he’s asking incessant questions, or singing a song loudly, or making loud noises with his truck (note to self: remove those fucking BATTERIES!) or else blasting the TV (which is down at his level, unlike our wall-mounted TV at home).

He’s bored, and he doesn’t have much to play with here, and I’m so stressed out. I feel bad for him. He’s never watched this many hours of TV before. I keep shushing him, and he just gets louder and more defiant. I’ve taken him to the playground at the beach for a few hours every day, but that just takes the edge off a bit, it’s not like he has a good space to run around in otherwise.

Even at the beach, my crippled pelvis makes me keep him on a short leash. He can run around all he wants within the gated playground, but the bigger kids are always jumping over the low wall to go play on the beach and under the pier and he wants to follow them. Today we went for a walk on the pier, but he kept running ahead of me, and chasing seagulls, and tripping and falling on the uneven wood of the pier.
It was a nightmare. I just kept imagining him tripping and falling, or going to swat a seagull, and then slipping through the wooden railing into the cold water hundreds of feet below. I couldn’t keep up with him, I just kept uselessly yelling at him to wait for me, and of course he didn’t, and I couldn’t chase him. Horrible. We got the end and I turned him around and eventually we got back the parking lot. But it sucked mightily in the meantime. Even walking on the sand is hard for me. I walked him down to the water yesterday, and was hoping that I could plunk down and he would play in the wet sand, but instead he wanted to go back to the playground.

Every day his behavior gets worse and my patience gets less. It’s just really bad. I’m trying to do everything I can for him, it’s just not easy. I was having a hard time with him *before* we left home and now it’s just magnified. We are still connecting on a daily basis, but I’m just doing too much yelling. I can’t be everywhere at once.

While I was getting my grandmother dressed today, Julian took his sand toys outside, filled them with dirt, and came back and dumped it on the carpet. I mean, I was ready to kill him. I didn’t, but it was so infuriating. He has been taking off his shoes and throwing them at me, and yesterday he broke a glass vase. He’s just a little kid, but it’s so hard right now. I’m at the point where I’m like, “STOP MAKING THINGS HARDER FOR ME THAN THEY ALREADY ARE, GODDAMNIT!!! CAN’T YOU SEE I’M ABOUT TO FUCKING SNAP?????” But what’s the point? He doesn’t get it. He just knows that he’s in a strange place, with a Nanny who he loves but is pretty odd and doesn’t understand anything he says to her, and he doesn’t have any of his toys, and Mommy is being a raging bitch. Actually, he seems to be enjoying himself most of the time, in spite of the weirdness, but I know it has to be hard for him somewhow.

This morning he was watching Barney and he kept pointing to the TV and saying to my grandmother, “Look, it’s Barney!”, and she would say, “Oh yes, it’s a bunny,” because she has no fucking clue who Barney is, or what he is…she’s never seen him before. Then Julian would say, “No Nanny, it’s BARNEY!” and she would repeat, “Yes, it’s a bunny.” Finally he said, “BAR–NEY!” just spelling it out as clearly as he could for her, but she still didn’t get it of course, so I had to step in and tell her that the purple guy is a dinosaur named Barney, not a bunny.

Some things are the same though. They both need to eat small meals at regular times, and have their food cut up for them. They both need things explained to them over and over. They both like songs. Nanny DOES know the words to the “Itsy-Bitsy Spider”, and she enjoys watching Sesame Street. Nice and simple.
Nanny still does dishes like a champ, although she insists on using a nasty old piece of towel instead of the sponges I bought her. I cook and she does dishes, which is fine by me, as I despise that particular chore.

Julian doesn’t clean anything up, he just makes a mess. But I can hold a pretty good conversation with him, whereas it’s sort of hopeless with Nanny. She asks me over and over all day long how old Julian is, what his name is, when the next baby is due, do I know if it’s a boy or girl? I’m doing pretty well at answering each time like it’s the first time I’ve been asked, but man, it’s getting really, really old. We repeat the same conversational scraps all day long.

How old is he?
Almost three years old.
And what’s his name?
Julian.
Andrew?
Julian.
Steven?
JU-LI-AN.
Oh, Julian, that’s right.
When is his birthday?
February 13th.
Oh, almost a valentine! Or a president!
When is the next baby due?
January.
A new year’s baby!
No, the 20th.
Do you know if it’s a boy or girl?
A boy.
Oh, that will be nice, then the two boys can play together. Do you just have the two boys then?
OR
Well, you already have a boy, I suppose the next baby will be a girl then.
Nope, we already know it’s a boy.
Oh, you know already! Well, that will be nice, then the two boys can play together.

This goes on at least 12-15 times a day, usually in the above order. It’s not so much tiring I guess, it’s just more and more depressing every time it happens. I think it does sink in a little bit every time I repeat it. Tonight when I told her that I was expecting a boy she said, “Oh, I already asked you that. Now I remember you said it was a boy.” So that was something new. Or maybe just a blip.

Oh god, the scammers. They are relentless. Hideous vultures preying on old confused people. I hope there is a hell just so they can rot in it forever. I have busted two attempts so far. Once was a call from some guy saying that my grandmother had won a Publisher’s Clearinghouse contest, and he was pumping her for information. I heard her reluctantly answering his questions and asker her to give me the phone. She handed it over and I blistered that fucker’s eardrums with what I thought of him. He started in on me too, at which point I hung up on him.

Then she got a letter from some scammer pretending to be from the Canadian Justice Department, investigating identity theft. They had supposedly caught three men and had a big settlement to lay on her from the confiscated funds, like $350,000 or something ridiculous (her identity theft was only for a few thousand). I’m sure the next step in the process would be to pump her for her banking information, but I put a stop to that right quick too. I called them up and told them to fuck right off with their scamming bullshit. Unbelievable. I’ve told her many times that if ANYONE calls her up and asks her questions about ANYTHING, just have them call me, but I don’t know if she will remember. I need to put a big sign up next to the phone. That’s no guarantee either, but I don’t know what else to do.

Anyway, it’s almost midnight and I’m exhausted. I just had to write this out so I wouldn’t go crazy. Journaling is my method of coping with things. But I had better get some sleep. Julian is waking up at the crack of dawn since we’ve been here. No blackout curtains like we have at home. Here he gets up at sunrise and says, “Wake up Mommy, it’s MORNING out there!” and points to the window. Unfortunately morning arrives at around 6:30am.

I hope my grandfather passes away tomorrow. I really, really want to be here for my grandmother when that happens, to help her get through it the best I can. So please, if anyone out there or up there is listening….take him ASAP. At this point he’s laying in bed unconscious, wearing a diaper. Death is his friend now. And those of us here need to move on.

Actually, I’m going to end on a funny note, because something actually funny happened the other day. Well, it was black humor, but I’ll take what I can get.

The hospice called two days ago and said that it was only a matter of hours, that my grandfather was very bad and on the verge of death (this has happened several times now). My Auntie Doris was still here, so we all rushed to the hospice to say goodbye.

Well, he had bounced back a bit, but we were all convinced that this was the end, so everyone was saying their farewells. Auntie Doris said the Lord’s Prayer while holding his hand, and asked him to give her love to Bill (her husband, who died a few years back), and my grandmother said her goodbyes too. I was just silently crying and holding his hand, because it was too overwhelming, and I tend to go quiet at times like that.

Then my grandmother asked him to please come for her soon when he got to heaven, to make a place for her to join him. She was ready to go, come and get her.

Auntie Doris also said that she would be ready soon, and that he should come and get her when she was ready, she would see him in heaven.

Everyone was weeping and asking him to take them along soon, and it just got to me. I was pretty disturbed by this image of my grandfather as the Grim Reaper, coming to claim the lives of these women, because as I said, he had his good tender side but he wasn’t the nicest person overall, and I certainly wouldn’t want him deciding matters of who lived and who died.

All that was going through my head (which of course I blurted out loud) was, “Well DON’T come for ME anytime soon… I’ve got small children who need me! So if you do come back here and start taking people, leave me the hell out of it! I won’t be ready to go for a GOOD long time yet. OK? Got that?”

Which was pretty funny, and even Nanny and Doris were laughing and crying and saying, “Yeah, don’t come and get HER! She’s way too busy to go anywhere yet!”

Apart from the Barney/bunny thing, that’s been about the only funny thing that’s happened so far. And it’s not really that funny. But yeah, I’ll take a light moment when I can get it in the midst of all the death, grief, gloom, confusion and madness.

One thought on “Memento

  1. Wow, Laura- what a Thanksgiving. Your grandparents are blessed to have you.
    I used to have a similar conversation (the repeated snippet kind) with a woman in my grandma’s retirement home- constant throughout my pregnancy with my second, but my favorite came after he was born.
    Is it a boy or a girl?
    a boy.
    What a pretty little girl. What’s her name?
    His name is Archie.
    Archie? What a strange name for a girl.

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