January 03, 2010

The Long Goodbye

My grandmother is dying. She is pushing 96 and has led a very good life. Last August we were privileged to watch her and my grandfather celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary. I watched them dance together one more time and smiled. When they kissed my daughter groaned and asked if all grown ups have to kiss.

While my daughter groaned I smiled and wondered about their good fortune. They have known each other since they were 11, started dating some time after that. Eighty-five years later they are still together, except something is beginning to tear them apart.

You see, my grandmother is suffering from dementia. I hate typing that because it does a disservice to her. It makes her sound less than who she was and in most ways still is. A very intelligent and exceptionally strong woman.

But the intelligent and strong woman is losing bits and pieces of her memory. Chunks of time are just gone without explanation or a formal goodbye. Alongside of the memory loss is a muddying of the waters of time, confusion about where she is and what is going on.

Yesterday she asked my grandfather if he thought that they should get married. Later she told him that she needed to go grocery shopping because her parents and his were coming for dinner. 2010 turned into 1934 into 1956, 1987 and then back to 2010.

My grandfather is beside himself. She is the great love of his life. Several years ago he told me that one of the hardest things to accept about getting old was knowing that he couldn't just pick her up and carry her out the door anymore.

I asked him why he needed to carry her. He told me that it wasn't something that he expected to do, but he was worried that if something happened to her he wouldn't be able to give her the care that she needed.

But this memory loss and confusion is harder on him than that. He fears that one day she won't know who he is anymore and that she'll be lost while she is still here.

He tells me again that in spite of her white hair he still sees the girl he fell in love with. Ensconced in his recliner he holds onto my arm and tells me story after story. I know most of them, but not all. And even though I know some I like hearing them.

With a sly grin he tells me that he never doubted that he would marry grandma, but when you are twenty years old and in love with a good girl getting married sooner than later sounds like a good idea. I smile again, and realize that my grandfather just gave me background about his sex life. Not so sure that I want to hear that, but ok.

Some days grandma is really there and some days less so. I don't tell him that if she forgets who I am I will be upset. I'll be understanding of it, how can I not be. But after 40 years of having grandparents it is hard to accept that one day I won't have any, let alone that one might not know me.

My mother quizzes me about my visits. She understands the situation and recognizes the future, but we never want to say goodbye to our parents. It doesn't matter how old you are, it is nice to have them around.

Goodbyes are hard. I have never liked them. I rarely say it to those I care most about. It is easier to say "see you later." Don't know how much longer we'll have with my grandparents.I hope that it is for quite some time.

I am doing my best to take it all day-by-day, but it is hard not to feel like this is a long goodbye.


SnoopyTheGoon said...

Sorry to hear this. As one that went through this stage of parents' life, I can understand the pains. And there is hardly any help with these situations.

Take care.

therebbetzinrocks said...

very poignet - very sweet. what a blessing for you to have them in your life.

RJW said...

It's not easy ever. My dad is going through it too, still in the somewhat early stages.

ProfK said...

We've seen this with some of the older members of the family and it is so not easy--not for them and not for the family that sees what is happening. Hang in there.

shavuatov said...

Jack, I am so sorry to read this. No manner of decline is an easy one to witness. Wishing you and your family strength.


Jack said...

Hi Snoopy,

It is what it is. We'll just do the best we can. Thank you for the comment, I appreciate it.


We have been very lucky and privileged to have them in our lives.


Sorry to hear that. Let's figure out lunch and we'll talk.


The hard part for me is trying to help my grandfather with it all. He is torn up over his inability to do more to help grandma.


Thank you, we'll take all the strength and kind wishes that are offered.

Lady-Light said...

...Sitting here with tears in my eyes at your story...lost my parents even before my grandfather, when they were way too young.

In a way, I was spared what you are going through; I didn't have to watch them decline; I don't know which is worse. But as you said, they have had (and still are having) a long and happy life together; mine were not so blessed...

Be Strong, Jack. Remember, 'the contract rarely stipulates its termination', right? We just have to go with the flow.

(I'm a great one for advice, even though I can't take my own.)

Jack said...


Hard to say if one is better/worse than the other. It is the usual pro/con deal. We take what we have and make the best of it.

Shira Salamone said...

Wow, sounds like my father, who probably hasn't really known who I am for a year or so, but has a lot of experience "faking," as my brother says. I'm so sorry to hear this. The old saying to the contrary notwithstanding, misery doesn't always love company.

The toughest thing about leaving Jerusalem a few years ago was knowing that it was likely that I'd never see my parents again. My mother died in June, and we visited in the first place because my brother warned me that, if I waited too long, there wouldn't be enough left of my father to be worth visiting.

Jack said...

Hi Shira,

It is one of those things. Some days are better than others. We go and visit and hope that there are more good than bad days. What else can you do.

Got so many good memories that it helps. But while she is still here, we'll focus on the now.