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.