March 23, 2010

Grandma's Dying & Grandpa Has Cancer

Grandma's Dying & Grandpa Has Cancer. That should be the name of some sort of country music song shouldn't it. Really, I can see Tim McGraw doing it. He has more than a few songs that I like but this isn't a song title, it is my life.

How is that for drama. Not bad, huh. If you are among the 17 long time readers than none of this is that much of a surprise. My life is just like your life, filled with a tapestry of good and bad. Stories about those we he have lost and those we haven't are scattered through it. Some of them make you smile and some of them make you cry.

This morning as the kids got ready to head off to school I told them that my grandmother had fallen and needed to go the hospital. They looked at me and said, "again?" I smiled and told them that she had fallen again and was besieged with a thousand questions about how and why it happened. It was a bittersweet moment.

What I didn't tell them was that she broke her hip and that due to her age and heart condition surgery is highly unlikely. I didn't tell them that their aunt, my little sister, looked to her big brother for guidance on whether she should get on a plane because grandma is dying. I didn't tell them that my mother, their grandmother asked me to help do some research on hospice and other end of life issues. I didn't tell them about my visit with my grandparents on Sunday.

Because, I was there. Not when she fell but several hours before. I sat with her and my grandfather and chewed the fat. I intentionally went without the kids. It was a chance for me to focus on being a grandson and not a father. Both are important, but had the kids been there it would have been difficult to focus on the grandparents the way that I wanted to.

You see, my grandfather turned 96 last week but I was unable to be there. I had some sort of stomach bug so I bugged out but promised my grandpa that I would come as soon as possible. And let's be real at 96 you never know how much time you have left so you do what you can to take advantage of the time when you can.

Last year we helped them celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary and watched them dance one last time. Anyway, my grandmother's health has been declining for a while now and while that is to be expected, the dementia that has accompanied has not been. Maybe we should have anticipated or expected it, but if you knew how strong and energetic my grandmother was you'd understand why it is surprising.

She carried a laundry basket up and down a flight of stairs into her eighties and until a few years ago still exercised regularly. The change may have taken a few years, but the decline is still shocking to us. But to my grandfather it has been heartbreaking.

So in addition to spending time with my grandparents the goal is to give my grandfather a little help. So when grandma asks the same question repeatedly there is someone else to help.

I wasn't upset with the children when they asked why grandma keeps falling. Nor was I upset when my son asked if getting older means that you break frequently and easily. But I was sad because they will never know the grandmother that I know. They won't have a real understanding of who she was and still is.

They weren't there on Sunday when my grandfather held onto my arm and fought back tears about how hard it is to see his girl like this. How he told me again that the worst part of aging is being robbed of the ability to take care of her the way that he wants to. About how he used to give her piggy back rides and listen to her laugh or so many other memories that he shared with me.

I sat and listened and did what I could to make it easier for him. And when my grandmother called me by mother's name I didn't flinch, even though I have a full beard and stand close to a foot taller than she does.

In a short time I am going to leave the office and head over to the hospital to visit grandma. She is sedated and barely awake. It is unclear whether she'll be cognizant of my being there. I don't know if this visit will be the last time I see her. The docs aren't entirely certain, it could go on for a while.

But this is not a long term proposition. Regardless of how long we have Grandma will not be at the seder or at my sister's wedding. And you can say what you will about her being there in spirit, but there still will be an empty seat that should have been hers.

And in the not so distant future I will have to have another discussion with my children about death and what that means. But I'll save that moment for whenever it may come because for now she is still here.

12 comments:

Steven said...

wow sorry to hear that.

You know Cancer is one of the big reasons why i changed our lifestyle and became Alkaine so i could better influence my kids.

After seeing my extended family fall ill with the same thing it didnt make any sense that no one was questioning what patterns caused whole family lines to develop the same type of terminal conditions.

Lifestyle (eating habbits etc) is the one thing that we are taught at a very young age and hardly ever questioned just accepted later on.

Im quite happy just having a salad for breakfast these days (as i did this morning) as are my kids :)

HSaboMilner said...

Just sending you a hug - my heart is so heavy.

Dr. Lisa said...

So sorry. It sucks, I know!

XOXO,

rivster said...

Aw man, I'm so sorry.

You're right about the whole "being there in spirit." People kept saying that when my grandmother died 7 weeks ago and I actually said "I'm sorry but that's not the same. I want here right here with me."

Remember to breathe. You are doing right by them, my friend.

Kristen @ Motherese said...

Jack, I'm so sorry to hear about your grandmother. Your post is a beautiful tribute to her, to the love between your grandparents, and to the importance of inter-generational connections. It made me wish I had had the chance to spend more time with my own grandparents before they passed away. Send good wishes to you and your family.

miriam said...

My father is 98. He was taking care of my stepmother, who had Alzheimer's, in his late eighties.

It nearly killed him, but he bounced back and now has a third wife.

The Absence of Alternatives said...

I am so sorry for what you are going through. My aunt (who brought me up) is unconscious with tubes going inside her right now. She is in stable condition but they have no idea how long she is going to last. As I was figuring out a way to fly home for a funeral should there is a need, my 7 yo asked me why I was not planning to go home and see her NOW. Now that she is still alive. I have been crying every day since. (I am sorry. This is something I can't bring myself to talk about on my blog and yet I am blabbering about this over here...)

James (SeattleDad) said...

So sorry to hear Jack. When you wrote that you were sorry that the kids would not get to know her like you did, that resonated with me.

I feel for your Grandfather.

Jack said...

Hi Steven,

I know a few people who have made big changes in their diet for the purpose of trying to improve their health. They have good things to say about it.

Just sending you a hug - my heart is so heavy. Mine too, thank you.

Doc,

It does suck, but what choice do we have.

Hi Rivster,

Got a few rug rats who expect me to keep breathing so I spose that is what I will do, even when it hurts.

Kristen,

thank you. It took me a few years to realize just how lucky I have been. I am thankful for the time.

Miriam,

Your story made me smile, third wife at 98. May he live to be 120.

AOA,

It is hard, just very hard. We all handle in our way. I blog because it lets off the steam, but I don't write about all my thoughts and feelings. Some things are better left....

Hi James,

Yep. The kids are a big part. We always want to share the best things with them and they are missing out on someone special. Wish I could do more.

shavuatov said...

All of my grandparents have gone now. I miss the 3 that I was honoured enough to have met. And I miss the one that I enver had the opportunity to meet in a different way - he is part of my heritage and I will never know what aspects of me are reflections of him.

I feel for you, Jack, trying to be a son, a grandson and a father all at once. It is so very hard.

But that post was another beautiful tribute to your family.

Be well, as much as you can.

rachel

Eric said...

I will be adding your family to my prayer list.

Jack said...

Hi Rachel,

Well if I learned anything from my grandparents it is that sometimes we have to take life as it comes. So I am trying to do the best I can, not much else to do really.

Thanks Eric, I appreciate it.