How do you say good bye to someone who doesn’t know who you are?
The thought hung like a black-out curtain in my mind as I kissed my grandma’s papery, wrinkled cheek good bye on Sunday. She knew that I was familiar. She even told me that my shirt made me look purdy. She was always flattering of the curves that I so badly despised. The recognition in her statement brought a salty wave to my eyes that leaned on the edge of my eyelids, threatening to turn into a torrent of rain upon my face.
She stared straight ahead into space as I kissed her, then looked at me from the corner of her eyes as I stood up, straightening my shirt. I didn’t want to turn around and walk away but I had to go. She looked away from me, staring at the television that she could not hear, and I turned to leave. I took one last glance at her as I walked out the door and in that instant, she realized we were leaving her in her unfamiliar new home. She reached her hand out to us and opened her mouth, in what appeared to me as a horror-stricken look.
They’re leaving me here and I don’t know why.
When we first arrived, she was all sunshine and bubbles. She was chattering along and was absolutely enthralled with “the beautiful little girl” whom I call Madilyn. After being beside her for about 5 minutes, she raised her hands to her cheeks and a surprised look enveloped her face as she said, “OH THERE YOU ARE!” to me. But I don’t think she knew that I was her granddaughter, although this is the type of response that an unexpected visit used to elicit so perhaps for a split second, she knew me as Summer but I can’t be sure.
We spent some time with her, responding to her fractured thoughts as best we could. We all began to feel claustrophobic and ventured outside to the little putting green in one courtyard of the facility. Grandma began crying for her mother. She wanted to go to her mother’s house where she could find comfort but she couldn’t find the way. The wind was strong on Sunday and the invisible chaos was too much for her to bear. She was sobbing loud, rhythmic sobs into my mom’s shoulders. As the wind whipped leaves around us, I felt the earth crumble beneath me and I wanted to protect her but there was nothing I could do in that moment. I suddenly told her that I found the way and I led her towards one of the doors back inside. Once safe in the quiet confines of the facility, she yelled at us through child-like tears, “Don’t anyone EVER bother doing that for me EVER AGAIN!” But what “that” was, we don’t really know.
My Pop is devastated. I know he is absolutely beating himself up on the inside for being unable to care for her. As hard as this is, it really is the best thing for everyone. He has been letting his own health decline so that he could care for her the best that he could, which was not nearly good enough. But they’ve been married for over 65 years and now I see why he didn’t want to let her go into a facility. He needs her.
She might not remember their story, or that they have 4 children and 3 grandchildren. She’ll never mourn the loss of her 3 boys or rejoice in her last living child, my mom. She doesn’t know to use the restroom when the urge strikes and she frosts cookies with superglue before eating them. She’ll never go home again and meticulously clean her house because she thinks that cleaning solvents are meant to be drank.
Despite those things, she’s hurting. She knows something is not right. She’s in an unfamiliar setting full of people who suffer the same demise. And in her wake, is a family who is grieving a woman who is still living. My grandma has died a slow mental death and she is no longer the woman with whom I share so many memories. My grandfather is a shell without her. My mom is left to toil with putting this woman who carried her for 9 months under her heart, and brought forth her life into the world, into a facility full of people who have no idea where they are, where they’re going, or where they’ve been. It feels like letting go of someone who is still living, but who has completely left the premises. It just feels all wrong.
It’s a cruel, cruel disease and one that I hope to never let my family suffer through with me so I’m breaking up with it.
I will not fall victim to this delirious disease.
How can I be so sure?