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.

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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.”

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.

Grandma, Alzheimer’s and Me – Introduction

In her heyday - before surgery that would change her life forever, before the onset of Alzheimer's - Grandma was tall, elegant, and beautiful. Here she is on one of the many vacations she took with her girlfriends.

In her heyday – before surgery that would change her life forever, before the onset of Alzheimer’s – Grandma was tall, elegant, and beautiful. Here she is on one of the many vacations she took with her girlfriends.

 

In the fall of 2010 my dearly beloved maternal grandmother went into the hospital for “life threatening surgery.” I didn’t really expect her to survive it because a year or so before she had insisted that I pen her obituary. She had told me, “I want you to be prepared…I’m not getting any younger and we’ve all got to go.”  She figured having me write her obituary would help prepare me emotionally for the transition. I was not ready to let go, but I was prepared to put up a show of strength.

When I first visited her in the hospital she was surrounded by nurses and Granddad all hovered around her bed trying to calm her down. When I got inside their circle she looked like a wild woman, not the churchified, dignified woman I had known and loved all my life. She was fighting so fiercely, they were threatening to strap her arms to the bed.

“She’s been fighting all morning!” Granddad said as I stood there probably looking dazed. “They gon’ haft strap her down. That’s all it is to it! She kicked the doctor, throughed the nurse over there and she’s even fighting me!”

I noticed worn brown leather belts in the nurses hands, looked at Grandma, her eyes glazed, hair ruffled all over the place, sheets and blankets crumpled around her. I quickly gained my composure though.

“Let me try something,” I said to Granddad and the nurses. “Where’s a Bible?”

“What you gon do with a Bible? They gon’ haft strap her down if she don’t stop all this foolishness!” Granddad responded. Then, turning back to Grandma, he added, “Now Baby, if you don’t quit all this carrying on, you gon’ be strapped down. You don’t want that do you?”

Grandma fussed something inaudible. She was yelling, saying she had to get home to the babies she’d left on the porch because the mother wasn’t coming back for them and she needed to get in the kitchen and bake a cake because her guests would arrive any minute. I had never seen Grandma any way except polished, prim and proper.

A nurse handed me a small Bible from the night stand and I moved in closer to Grandma’s side so I could speak softly.

“Grandma, what’s your favorite book in the Bible?” I asked.

She looked confused, but my mission was clear in my mind. She loved the Bible. She reverenced it. Ever since she was a little girl going to Sunday School and church she knew she had to settle down when anyone was reading the Bible. I figured that even being out of her mind, her spirit or something deep inside her would call her to be still when the Bible was being read.

“Grandma I want to read you your favorite book in the Bible,” I said. “What is it?”

“Ephesians,” she said.

I opened the book to Ephesians and began reading. I had embraced my grandparents’ Christianity almost 20 years ago, and I’d read the Bible in church and at home, but the words I found myself reading to Grandma to settle her down unsettled me. 

“Wives submit yourselves to your husbands as unto the Lord,” I read, keeping a pleasant voice even as my eyes grew wide with disgust. I was thinking, ‘well here’s the whole problem to your and Granddadd’y relationship right here! He’s been lording over you all these years and you’ve accepted it because of this stuff right here!” But I read on, determined to settle her down. I stepped back from her bed and leaned against the window. Outside it was gray and rainy. I looked across the room and was happy to see Granddad settling down in one of the two orange arm chairs set for visitors. “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, and is the savior of the body.”

Yuck! I wished I had not offered to read her favorite verse. I would have preferred to read her mine, which is Psalms 21. But I was there for her, so I continued reading Ephesians. I read softly, soothingly, leaning against the window frame. I watched as Grandma fixed the covered around herself, then quietly shuffled her pillows. She slid down under the covers and after an hour or so of my reading she and Granddad were sleep. I woke Granddad to tell him I was leaving, but would return in the morning to talk to her doctor. I suspected that Grandma had been over-medicated and that’s why she was so irritable.

The following morning, just hours before she was scheduled to go into surgery, I returned to her room in time to meet with her doctor and Granddad. I demanded the doctor look at the nurses charts. We confirmed that she had been given too much medicine the day before. Grandma wasn’t feisty this morning. My mother and uncle arrived.  A couple of church deacons came in and we formed a circle and prayed for Grandma’s surgery to go well. When the church folks left I chatted with Granddad as my mother leaned over Grandma having a private conversation. I decided to keep Granddad distracted when I realized my mother was working some of her Scientology mo-jo on Grandma. My mother, who was raised Baptist, but turned to Islam then Scientology, loved it all and found useful tools from each. At this moment she was doing something called, “touch-assist” she learned in the Church of Scientology. To my delight and surprise I noticed Grandma become instantly more energetic. When the nurses came to roll her into surgery she left with a joke.

“My obituary is in the punch bowl!” she yelled as she passed me. I laughed and explained to the others.

“She had me write her obituary last year. She must’ve left it in the punch bowl in the ding room where she keeps other important papers.”

It was a bitter-sweet moment. She looked livelier than she had the past few days, yet I remembered her telling me she was ready to die, had lived a good long life and was ready to go anytime the good lord came to take her. The next morning I returned to the room where I expected Grandma to be, having been told that the surgery went well and she was back in her room in recovery. I darted back out of her room and asked the nurses at the station where they’d moved my Grandmother. They pointed me back to the room I’d left. I went back in and realized that was Grandma. I hadn’t recognized her without her teeth and glasses. She was sound asleep, looking frail, pale and half dead. It broke my heart seeing her that way. It would take a long time for me to get used to seeing her that way.

She had not died in surgery, but the strong, sharp-witted, regal woman I had known had. Her decline from there was physical and mental. She developed dementia then Alzheimer’s, but our days together going forward became more soul-enriching than I could have ever imagined. About two years into helping Granddad help her live with the disease, I realized I should keep notes of our experiences.

WARNING: Some of the blogs may be difficult to read, full of anger and acrimony, but that, too, was part of this experience.

When I began telling others about my 95-year-old Granddad being the primary caregiver for my Grandmother who’s suffering Alzheimer’s, I realized most people had their own stories of a loved one with some form of dementia or stories of assisting aging parents. I hope you will feel free to share your stories in comments here and feel free to post links to your blogs on these issues.

On my way to spend time with my Grandparents one evening I noticed a bumper sticker on a car in front of me at the light. It read, “God Chose Me to Be Inspired By a Child With Autism.” I felt blessed that God chose me to be inspired by a grandmother with Alzheimer’s.

 

Granddad’s Optimism – from A to Zinc

Granddad’s Optimism – From A to Zinc

 

What are you doing for Father’s Day?

I’m thanking God for my paternal granddad, who inspires me from A to Zinc! Since a blood transfusion he had during surgery in the 1990s, he’s had absolutely no taste in his mouth. But he is optimistic that his sense of taste will return.

Granddad will be 94-years-old next month. He’s lived a good hearty life, but the past few years have been challenging beyond denial. He’s become more fussy than before. He’s got aches in his hips, past heart attacks and strokes that must come to mind every now and then. He’s become the care-taker for his wife (his love, joy and partner of more than 70 years). But he believes his taste buds can be restored.

Grandma said God took away Granddad’s taste buds because his mouth had been so foul for so long. He had cussed and fussed at her. He used to call her “heifer,” she told me. “God fixed his mouth,” she said.

I had laughed and joked with him about his loss of taste. “Granddad I can cook for you now!” I said once, laughing. He had teased me about my cooking spaghetti every time I invited them to my home for dinner. When I baked him a chicken with rosemary, he laughed at my attempt at gourmet cooking.

“What’s these weeds in the chicken?” he teased.

Granddad had been an executive chef for Marriott Corp., where he worked 40 years before retiring, and pleasing his pallet had seemed impossible until he lost his taste buds.  He eventually learned to appreciate the love and effort that went into preparing a meal though. Since Grandma’s life-threatening surgery three years ago, Granddad’s been cooking all their meals, and Grandma has complained that his food lacks flavor, a criticism I imagine must have cut to the bone.  On Sundays, he treats her to a hearty meal from their favorite soul food carry-out and sometimes takes her out to a restaurant when he can get a ride. (He’s 94 and lost his driving privileges last year.)

Earlier this month, on our way to church, he mentioned that his doctor is prescribing a new agent to revive his taste buds.

“My doctor’s going to start me on Zinc,” Granddad said. “She said that’s going to bring my taste buds back.”

“After 30 years?!?” I said, not intending to sound doubtful. “You’ll have to let me know how that goes. If your taste buds come back, that’ll be something for me to remember forever.”

On the way home from church I decided I would make another spaghetti dinner for him for Father’s Day. If his taste buds are back, he will fully appreciate the flavors. If his taste buds are still absent he may appreciate the zest of my mere effort. At the very least, he will get another chuckle out of me offering another meal of spaghetti.