Kissing Crusaders

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I’m not even ready to process the conversation I had with my beloved older brother last night. I called him this morning to add another something for him to think about, but he didn’t pick up. That’s probably a good thing because I was still feeling a little irritable and a lot tired.

 

I showed the photo of the kissing crusaders to my co-workers this morning and they marveled at the beauty of the moment. The facebook note I posted with the photo was simply: 74 years married. Still Standing. Prayers up everyone. One-hundred-fifty people had liked it overnight. When I showed my supervisor and a consultant sitting in the adjacent cubicle, they also ooooed and awed. When I volunteered the back story – that the kiss came after a long day of fighting, managing Grandma’s disease – they made the moment sweeter.

 

Michelle, supervisor said my grandparents reminded her of her aunt and uncle who were so close they took care of each other all their lives. When her uncle was put in a nursing home, her aunt took a bus to visit him every day. The day he died during her visit, she went home and died of a heart attack less than an hour later. The consultant, Tracy, said when her father was in the hospital, comatose, the doctors advised her and her siblings to tell him it was ok for him to leave. They each visited and after all eight of them told him they were fine and he could leave, he died within hours.

 

“That reminds me of when my brother was dying at 16,” I said. “We told him he didn’t have to stay in that body for us. He was in so much pain. The cancer had spread to his lungs. Maybe it’s time we have that conversation with my grandparents.”

 

I remembered giving them hints that I’m ok. Several times in the past year Grandma looked in my face and asked, “Why are you so sad?” She knows something’s not right in my marriage because she hasn’t seen my husband in almost four years. She’d told me to “turn it over to God…let God fight your battles.” But at one point Saturday she looked in my face and said, “Look at those big, pretty brown eyes.” I felt like she survived her life-threatening surgery to help me through the latest heartbreak since she’d nursed me back to whole almost twenty years ago.

 

I remembered telling Granddad that I’m ok yesterday when he asked about my job.

 

“How did the people act about you taking off early today,” he said, speaking over his shoulder as he stood at the sink washing greens.

 

“No problem. This job is waaaay less demanding than any job I’ve had before. I’m not in charge, so it’s not all on my shoulders. All I have to do is make sure my work gets done and I put in the hours,” I said.

 

“What about the people you’re working with? How are they?”

 

“My supervisor is great! She’s a praying woman. In fact, we pray together every week,” I said.

 

“That’s a change from that last one you had cursing you,” he said. We both laughed.

 

“Yep. My mother-in-law told me to not just pray for any job, but pray for my divine job,” I said. “I really feel like this is a divine job.”

 

With that, I realized I was telling him I am financially secure enough and although my husband has never visited their church for Sunday service with me, I’m not in a wilderness of some sort. My mother-in-law has been the moral support I’ve needed.

 

Maybe later today I will ask my mother what she thinks about us each having that conversation with both of our elders, assuring them that we’re ok and they are free to go. I think she will say they are seeing and sensing how well we are and they will leave when they feel like they’ve given us all they can and that we’ve received all we can.

Ready to Rumble

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I heard Grandma’s rants coming from the dining room. I stepped out of my shoes because if there was going to be a rumble, I was going to have sure footing. I’d seen Grandma out of her mind – just two days ago – and I knew she was getting worse. Two days ago was the first time she failed to recognize me and saw only a threat. I was watching her while Granddad was out for a much needed break Saturday when Grandma was coming up the steps, I was standing at the top and through the darkness and through my – uh – extended hair – she didn’t recognize me. Afraid, she told me that she’d called the police. I assured her it was me, “your Ray-Ray.” And when I got back in the light she settled down. Until two days ago I was the one she called out for. I had a calming effect on her just being present. But something had gotten worse, so I stepped out of my shoes in case I had to wrestle with “the worst.” Two days ago when Granddad had come home and I was taking them to the Farmer’s Market, I realized that Granddad’s stern voice and pushing was more effective than my patience and gentleness in certain moments. When Grandma was tired and irritable and her ire was up, Granddad knew how to manage the ire. Ire, fierce meanness was what I heard in Grandma’s tone as I entered the house. She was preaching what she knew to be the word of God, but meanness filled the air. The nurse sat in a chair off to the side helpless and apparently in shock.

 

“God is coming back! Jesus! I say unto you go and oh my God….”

 

Grandma yelled, pacing the floor, hands waving wildly. Granddad looked on from the doorway to the kitchen, straining to hold back his tears. Barefoot and ready for battle, I stood in front of Grandma and yelled at her pitch, “Hallelujah! Yes! Glor-Ray!”

 

She paced the floor and preached. I leaned over and asked the nurse how long she’d been at it. Since about five minutes before I came in. I turned and studied Grandma a few more seconds and realized we’d have to wait this one out, let her wind herself out. The nurse left, since she had been scheduled to leave an hour ago. Grandma raged on. If she attacked Granddad again, I was prepared to restrain her. I grabbed my cellie to capture a little of this unbelievable moment on video. In about fifteen more minutes she was all spun out. She announced that she was going upstairs and I followed her.

Quit Picking with Her!

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I hoped to get her still enough to read the Bible to her since that had calmed her down when she was in the hospital and they wanted to restrain her. That was almost five years ago and she’d fought the nurses and Granddad so bad they were putting straps on her as I arrived. I had insisted they allow me to calm her down my way. Instinctively I had figured that she would settled down out of respect for the Bible. I knew that ever since she was a little girl she’d been told to be quiet when the Bible is read. I had asked her for her favorite scripture and read it even though I hated the words as they came off my lips. First Corinthians! No wonder there’s so much damn domestic violence in the world. The Bible designs it! But I read it knowing its familiarity would be soothing.

 

When we got upstairs in their bedroom I expected to find her Bible on her night stand. She used to keep three or four Bibles on and in her nightstand, but today there were none. I found one on Granddad’s nightstand and opened it to one of the pages marked with a stack of index cards. I sat on the edge of the bed and began reading. Grandma calmed down more, but not as much as I was hoping.

 

“Grandma you can lay down for a nap and I’ll read to you,” I said.

 

She shook her head and busied herself making up the bed. I was reading from The Book of Ruth, which I remembered Grandma liked. Years ago, when they were only aging but not visibly ailing, I was interviewing them as often I could. One day I’d asked Grandma who were her favorite women in the Bible and she told me Ruth. I don’t remember why Ruth was her favorite, but I have those notes written down somewhere. I will gather all the notes together and organize for better use some day. But right now I’m still taking notes and organization is not my main priority.

 

Grandma got enough of my reading and returned back downstairs to the kitchen where Granddad was now washing and chopping fresh collards, which he’d bought at market Saturday. Grandma got busy in the kitchen piddling around in the cabinet next to Granddad. He started to fuss, to tell her to go sit down somewhere and I had to nip that in the bud.

 

“Granddad don’t antagonize her. I can’t pull her off you,” I said.

 

He looked at her again, looked at me, rolled his eyes, started to say something to her again but stopped himself.

 

Months later, with home aides now in place, I would get reports that she picks with him! They say she antagonizes him when he’s sitting at the table sorting his mail. “Clifford!  Clifford” nagging the hell out of him.  Or when he’s cooking, “Can I help? I’m going to…”

 

I hadn’t believed it when my uncle said sometimes Granddad can be sitting at the table, reading the newspaper,  and Grandma will just punch him in the face out the blue. I thought my uncle was exaggerating, and I chuckled thinking that Grandma was getting revenge for so many verbal blows she’s sustained over the years. I remember the first outburst I witnessed, probably pre-teens. I was helping them set up for one of their popular dinner parties, when Granddad, obviously anxious and rushed yelled at Grandma, “Baby why you got to be so stupid! I ain’t never seen nobody so stupid!” I’d laughed it off in my youth, but as I got older I found myself trying to justify that they had their own unique communication thing going. That lie has run its course. Sometimes now when Grandma is “out of her mind” she will talk about how embarrassed she was by his tirades.

 

“Baby, don’t let life do this to you,” she said to me one day after her crying spell.  “It’s best to just walk away. Just walk away.” She sobbed explaining that she used to tell her friends that her husband was just having a bad day, that he just had a bad temper. Her words from that night played on repeat in my head for weeks, “Don’t let life do this to you…just walk away.”

 

She’d told me not to be intimidated by anyone, not even a boss at work. Walk away. No matter how much money somebody’s got, don’t be intimidated. Walk away. I never considered that she may have felt intimidated. She always seemed regal and strong to me. I knew she was smarter than Granddad academically, and he knew it to.  Decades ago when she began confessing to me how she felt and I asked her why she stayed, it became clear that she’d stayed for the lifestyle. I vowed privately to never do that. Knowing all that rage she has inside, has carried for years, it’s all I can do to keep Granddad from unwittingly verbally striking a hornets nest.

 

When I hear Granddad fussing, “Baby go sit down somewhere!” I say, “Let her do her thing.  I’m keeping an eye on her.” He resists, “That’s not the point. She’s got no reason to be….” Again I say, “Granddad let her be. If you get her stirred up, I can’t pull her off of you.”

No Crying for Caregivers

 



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A Day in the Life…

No Crying for Caregivers

I called Granddad this morning to reassure him that I will be there shortly after the nurse leaves. He sounded weary and irritable when I called. All my effort, and energy from my mother this weekend wasn’t enough. He’s pissed that his son, his only son and only child by birth, hasn’t stepped up to the plate to do what needs to be done. In Granddad’s ornery opinion his son doesn’t do anything. “Work” to Granddad looks like labor – at the very least cooking, cleaning, being busy. I’ve suggested that my uncle “just being there” is helpful, but Granddad doesn’t buy it. So, when I get there in an hour or so I’m expecting to have to engage Granddad so he can vent even as I keep an ear open for Grandma so she doesn’t dart out the door and wander off – again.

 

If I had more time right now I could write about the incredibly interesting day we had together Saturday and write about my day yesterday cheering from the sidelines. Saturday came with the coincidence of me being in front of the TV just in time to happen upon a documentary about the Coca Cola company, where Granddad worked with his father right around the era of The Great Depression. Also on Saturday I took them to a Farmer’s Market and was delighted to find on sale Mascato grapes just like the ones they grew in their backyard the whole while I was growing up. We returned from the market just in time to happen upon a broadcast discussion about caregiving for people with Alzheimer’s disease.

 

“See Granddad, somebody else does understand what you’ve been going through,” I said, referring to what he’s been trying to explain for months. Being the primary caregiver for Grandma the past four years has taken a toll on him.

 

Geeze, I’m out of time for now. Gottat run to get there by 1 as promised. There will be more time to write in days to come.

 

I arrived about ten minutes earlier than promised but had to circle the block a few times looking for a parking space. Lots of ideas about correcting the parking situation for taxpaying residents and their visitors like me crossed my mind as I hunted for a space. While seeing some of the side streets with signs reserving parking for the residents of that block, I was reminded of learning – just recently – that Granddad had long ago requested speed bumps for his street. His effort failed because he couldn’t get the support of the school officials in the school for special needs children located on his corner. Finally, Granddad concluded that if it wasn’t important enough for the school authorities to protect their children then it simply wasn’t important enough. He gave up. I was delighted to hear that he had made such an effort for people outside of his family and church group. All my life I’d known Granddad to love, protect, and provide for his family. I knew that together he and Grandma served lunch to “the homeless people” in their church until the homeless people “abused the privilege” by bathing in the bathroom sinks, stealing the toiletries, and fighting over the food.

 

I rang the doorbell instead of using my key, and when Granddad opened the door he looked absolutely terrorized.

 

“She just finished beating me. The nurse had to pull her off me,” he said. He couldn’t cry at the moment so I knew I couldn’t either.

I’m OK You’re OK

I’m OK You’re OK

After three bouts of violence with Grandma that day, I saw Granddad plopped down on a chair in the dining room and cry. This caregiving is taking a lot out of him - but also adding a lot of character and spiritual strength to him. After his tears Grandma was calm again and he called her to him for a hug.

After three bouts of violence with Grandma that day, I saw Granddad plop down on a chair in the dining room and cry. This caregiving is taking a lot out of him – but also adding a lot of character and spiritual strength to him. After his tears Grandma was calm again and he called her to him for a hug. “Baby you know I love you,” he said. They kissed and I almost cried – but instead raced to get my cellie for a photo.

I showed the photo of the kissing crusaders – Grandma and Granddad – to my co-workers this morning and they marveled at the beauty of the moment. The facebook note I posted with the photo was simply: 74 years married. Still Standing. Prayers up everyone. One-hundred-fifty people had liked it overnight. When I showed my supervisor and another colleague, they also ooooed and awed. I volunteered the back story – that the kiss came after a long day of fighting and managing Grandma’s disease – and they made the moment sweeter.   My supervisor – who has also become a dear friend – Michelle – said my grandparents remind her of her aunt and uncle who were so close they took care of each other all their lives. When her uncle was put in a nursing home, her aunt took a bus to visit him every day. The day her uncle died during the visit, her aunt went home and died of a heart attack less than an hour later. The other colleague, Tracy, said when her father was in the hospital, comatose, the doctors advised her and her siblings to tell him it was ok for him to leave. They each visited and after all eight of them told him they were fine and he could leave, he died within hours.   “That reminds me of when my brother was dying at 16,” I said. “We told him he didn’t have to stay in that body for us. He was in so much pain. The cancer had spread to his lungs.” He died a few weeks after that conversation. “Maybe it’s time we have that conversation with my grandparents,” I wondered out loud.   I remembered giving my grandparents hints that I’m ok. Several times in the past year Grandma looked in my face and asked, “Why are you so sad?” She knows something’s not right in my marriage because she hasn’t seen my husband.  She’d told me to “turn it over to God…let God fight your battles.” But at one point Saturday she looked in my face and said, “Look at those big, pretty brown eyes,” nurturing and cheering me on and she has done all my life. I felt like she survived her life-threatening surgery four years ago just to be alive and help me through the latest heartbreak. My last big heartbreak was almost 20 years ago and she had nursed me back to whole then.   Yesterday when I visited – doing my Wednesday and Thursday evening caretaking stint – I told Granddad that I’m OK. When he asked how things are going on my job, I seized the opportunity to assure him that I’m doing well, standing on my own two feet, feeling secure, unafraid of getting fired or burned out again.   “How did the people act about you taking off early today,” Granddad said, speaking over his shoulder as he stood at the sink washing greens.   “No problem. This job is waaaay less demanding than any job I’ve had before. I’m not in charge, so it’s not all on my shoulders. All I have to do is make sure my work gets done and I put in the hours,” I said.   “What about the people you’re working with? How are they?”   “My supervisor is great! She’s a praying woman. In fact, we pray together every week,” I said.   “That’s a change from that last one you had cursing you,” he said. We both laughed.   “Yep. My mother-in-law told me to not just pray for any job, but pray for my divine job,” I said. “I really feel like this is a divine job.”   With that, I realized I was telling him I am financially secure enough. I’m OK. My mother-in-law has been the moral support I’ve needed, encouraging me, counseling and consoling me as if God put her in place at the door where Grandma will exit.   Maybe later today I will ask my mother what she thinks about us each having that conversation with our elders, assuring them that we’re ok and they are free to go. I think she will say they are seeing and sensing how well we are and they will leave when they feel like they’ve given us all they can and that we’ve received all we can.

Fixin’ for a Fight

 

 

Granddad got focused on fixing dinner. I had bought my meal, Grandma had enough pre-packaged meals for herself and him, but I knew that busyness was relaxing for him so I didn’t suggest anything else – until I realized her was very tired. He had cooked two pots of greens – one seasoned for today’s dinner, the other unseasoned for freezing. He also pulled three yams from the pantry and asked me what kind of meat I wanted.

 

“No thank you. I’m having chicken for lunch in a little while,” I said.

 

“That’s no problem! If you don’t want to eat chicken again I got steak, fish, burgers, whatever you want!”

 

“No thank you. I don’t eat meat more than once a day because it takes a long time to process – in my system,” I said.

 

Granddad ridicules my uncle for eating all these new-fangled-fancy-schmansy foods, and he’s always scoffed at my mother’s beliefs about food – that nutrition, not taste or any other reason – is the primary reason for eating.

 

“I’ll have your greens and a potato though,” I added.

 

“Suit yourself,” he said.

 

He carefully sat on the stair climber to go into the basement and retrieve meat from one of the three freezers they keep full down there. He also planned to pull cornbread mix from the basement pantry, which has been as full as a community general store ever since I could remember. When I saw Granddad struggling to walk back up the stairs, I realized he was probably trying to get exercise. But he looked extremely tired and I figured he had to be tired after Grandma’s alleged beat down. I still had only heard about these beatings and could not really imagine this frail woman taking him down.

 

“Granddad, why don’t you get a nap in while I keep an eye on Grandma,” I said. “You’re going to need your strength later. You can finish dinner later.”

 

“I’m ok,” he insisted. “I’m going to make some cornbread. This is some good cornbread.”

 

Grandma was at the kitchen sink washing and re-washing a couple of bowls and a few pieces of flatware. She’d dry them off then put them into the dishwasher, take them out of the dishwasher.

 

“Baby what you doing!” Granddad yelled.

 

“Granddad, leave her alone. I can’t pull her off you,” I reminded him. He’d told me that she’s thrown him across the room, that she’d pinned him down to the floor, that their son had had to pull her off of him. But I couldn’t imagine it. I’d seen him fuss and yell at her so much over the years, that the first time he told me she knocked a plate of food out of his hand at church, “showing out”, I jokingly dismissed the episode, saying, “Grandma’s on get-back time.” When he asked what I meant, I’d clammed up. If I’d said, “Granddad you’ve been fussing at her and embarrassing her ever since I can remember. She’s getting you back!” He would have fiercely denied it. He would’ve claimed as he always had, “ya’ll don’t know your grandma like I know her. Ya’ll don’t see what she does.” Then we would have had to address domestic violence, verbal abuse. He would have sworn, as he had before, “I might raise my voice, but I never hit her.” I never said, “you intimidate her with your yelling!” In fact, I had accepted their justification, that this was just the way they communicated, as if they’d developed their personal own language. I’d accepted that many people in their generation were hard on each other, hard with each other. My paternal grandmother was not that way, but I also realized my maternal grandparents had been the way they were since before I was born and who was I to change it?

 

It was only earlier this year that Grandma finally confessed to me, “When he yells like that he makes me nervous, and I can’t think straight.” A couple months ago, I saw her yell at him for the first time and I was more tickled than anything. She’d told him to sit down somewhere and shut up. I went home laughing.

Strength in Weakness

Strength in Weakness

Grandma tells me, "I'm fine - spiritually speaking," and I believe her. I'm glad to see the strength of their faith and their love even as their bodies weaken.

Grandma tells me, “I’m fine – spiritually speaking,” and I believe her. I’m glad to see the strength of their faith and their love even as their bodies weaken.

 

The thing about being a caregiver is that – at least for me, at least for now – the caring doesn’t stop after spending a few hours with my grandparents after work. They are on my mind constantly. Every waking hour it seems, they’re on my mind, I wonder if the nurse arrived on time – or at all; what must I say/do to convince my uncle who lives with them that we all need to know when they’re being left home alone so we can check on them more frequently throughout the day; when and how best do I proceed with managing their paperwork and further ensuring their professional care needs are met now and in the future; when is the next doctor’s appointment; is Grandma ok today or fighting Grandma; what can I do to calm her down; what can I recommend Granddad do to calm her down; do I have a little time at my desk to research tips and resources for caring for an alzheimer’s patient; what about general tips for managing aging parents and all the shifting in interaction that occurs with that. Seems like mind-chattering worry, and maybe it is, but that’s been my reality the past couple of years. Everyday even when I’m not with my grandparents they are with me.

 

One day when I called the house and checked on Grandparents – the singular name I gave them long ago when I realized there are two bodies and two heads of the same being, like Siamese Twins separated – I realized Grandma’s Alzheimer’s disease is only one of many maladies we’re dealing with.

 

The nurse said Granddad was sitting out on the porch. Grandma was in the bathroom and the nurse was telling me she was having a hard time getting Grandma to allow her to apply prescribed ointment to her bottom to treat hemorrhoids. I didn’t know Grandma has that, too, I admitted. The day before I had found that Grandma’s feet are in bad shape. She complained about the mismatched shoes she was wearing hurting her feet. So, I got her to sit down and let me rub her feet. Her heels felt like over-ripe – maybe even bruised – peaches. They were so soft and fleshy I wondered how she could possibly stand on them. I know Granddad’s got aches everywhere – in his right hip and both legs. His ankles are largely swollen, and his eyes burn and stay teary. Granddad takes close to a dozen pills each day, but we are proud that Grandma only takes two – Imodium and a prescribed sleep medicine.

 

With all those maladies, I should be glad they are transitioning out of their bodies. As they have become frail and I see them withering away – their old clothes swallowing their shrinking bodies, their leaning and stumbling giving undeniable assurance that they are slipping away – I now look through them and imagine I’m communicating with their spirit within. Sometimes at night I lay still imaging I’m having a conversation with their spirit not needing telephone lines or in-person presence.

 

One day when I was with them and Grandma went into her rambling mode, I felt invited to communicate with her inner spirit. It was just Grandma and I sitting at the large dining room table, soft sunlight streaming through the partially opened drapes. She began rambling about a supervisor she had cheating her of $100. She went on and on about how this woman didn’t like her, mistreated her and cheated her out of her pay. I tried to bring her back to present time the way my mother suggested: by asking her name and how old she is.

 

“What is your name Miss Lady?” I asked with a cheerful smile.

 

“I know who I am! Charity Irene Thomas!” she said.

 

“Yaaaay! And how old are you?” I continued.

 

She looked at me like I was dumb, paused, then smiled.

 

“I’m fine, spiritually speaking,” she said.

 

Her words reminded me of conversations I had with my dying bestie three years ago. My bestie, dying from cancer, told me “I’m fine. Ray, I’m going to beat this thing!” A few weeks later she was dead, I was puzzled and devastated. But years later I realized she was telling me she was spiritually fine and her cancer would not kill her love of life or her faith in God. She had died still expressing love to family and friends and still encouraging us to believe in God. With that, she had beat the thing.

 

Grandma’s Alzheimer’s and Granddad’s overall decline have been distracting, but overall, I’m sure I will be better off for having walked this walk with them. I’m reminded that we are spirits housed in bodies. After the initial – and frequent – distractions of worrying about their wellbeing I am grateful that I get a chance to see the strength of their faith as their bodies weaken. I see the strength of their love for and commitment to each other despite all the changes in the world around them. I see in them the strength of forgiveness and determination to love.