Friday, November 5, 2010


Feeling guilty lately about not spending much time with my grandmother.

My grandfather died in recent years, and it became apparent that her mental state was significantly worse than anybody thought; we thought she had early-stage Alzheimer's while he was still living and minding her, but since then we've discovered that, while it's not the early stages of Alzheimer's, it is one of the other variations of dementia, and it's a lot more advanced than we had thought.

On the one hand, I want to spend time with her, because I don't have much time left to do so - but then actually doing so is... she's not there.  Even when I spend time with her, I don't feel like I'm spending time with... -her-, just her body, and the shadow of a mind.  She has lucid moments, characteristic of the condition, but...

She forgets what you've said thirty seconds after you've said it; she forgets what she's said thirty seconds after she's said it, and will repeat it.  She will repeat a story you told her a day or two previous, thinking it's something which happened to her.

She has hearing aids; I'm not sure if she actually has problems with her hearing, because the majority of the time she simply can't understand what you're saying.  There's something going on in her mind, she works very hard to pretend she knows what you're saying - if you laugh randomly she'll laugh with you, assuming you told a joke - but her thoughts are entirely... inaccessible.

We took her on vacation with us; a cruise.  The week after, she thought we had gone to Arkansas; two weeks later, she didn't recall it at all.  (Not to mention that she had absolutely no idea what was going on when we were on the cruise itself.  She mostly stayed in her room, although she did seem to enjoy the shows.)

But thinking back, I have a really hard time figuring out how much of this is new.  The family used to laugh when she did things like put apple vinegar instead of apple juice into a pie recipe.  My grandfather is gone now, and we can't ask him how bad things really were.  My dad remembers her being not quite right when he was a kid.

I don't know if the person I've always thought of as my grandmother was even ever there, or whether the persona was something I invented, shoehorned around a confused woman doing her best to get through the day, laughing when people told jokes because they were laughing and not because she understood them.  I remember my grandfather went to great lengths to get coffee pots and other appliances which looked and worked exactly like the ones they had had before, even when I was a very young child.  My parents replaced her old microwave (which used a turn-dial) with one with buttons as a Christmas gift one year, and from then on my grandfather was the one to use the microwave; she had it over ten years and never did learn to use it.  It was this way my entire life.  Was she better then?  Did I simply not see it?  I don't know.  The stranger things she did stand out, but they could have simply been particular bad days.  I can't recall her ever acting in a way which would suggest she was healthy then, though.  And even then, when I thought of her, it was always as a unit pair with my grandfather; I couldn't have pictured her without him, and that... lack of a picture held true when he died.

I think she knows he's dead, but I do not think she knows how long it's been; I'd be surprised if she remembered what he died of.  She doesn't notice the anniversary of his death passing.

I feel guilty not spending time with her, but at the same time, I don't actually want to.  I try to keep her comfortable, bring her her coffee and the newspaper she rereads dozens of times throughout the day (I do not know how much she understands, but it is part of her daily ritual).  And I watch somebody who is shade already, unaware of the living.

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