Strength in Weakness
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.