I've been privy to a specific situation as of late that has triggered some retrospective thinking. Don't worry, I'm not going to try to be vague or hold back. I'll spill the beans b/c unless you're new around here, you know that's kind of my thing. I pretty much vomit forth every thought or emotion I have. I never did learn the value of silence and by now, I'm too damn old to be taught.
|4 generations: Grandma, Mom, Me & baby Trin|
Seeing the beginning of dementia in my Grandma has been a lot like ripping scabs off of old wounds. The similarity between how things started with Granny and how they are starting with my Grandma bring back a lot of memories that I had quietly filed away. The overall emotion has always been easy for me to recall, but a lot of the specifics had faded over the years. I thought they were gone, but I see now that they were just tucked in the back of my mind. While that may sound like a bad thing, in some ways it's extremely helpful. Where before I was ineffective and unsure of what to say or do, I now have past experience to guide me. I am a pro at redirection, steering conversations in a more positive direction when I see that my Grandma is stuck in a memory loop. I also have the foresight to sort of brace myself for anything. Her behavior is far from erratic or bizarre at this point, but it will happen and it will be sudden. One day someone will stop by to visit and everything will be fine and later the same day or the next day, she'll do something kooky. Sometimes a little forewarning is all a person needs to deal with a tough situation effectively.
This time around is quite a bit different, too, because I'm only going to visit my Grandma weekly whereas I was visiting Granny every day or every other day in the early stages. (Toward the end w/ Granny, she was moved to another facility about 20 or 30 minutes away, so I only visited once a week.) With Grandma, I only stop by Saturday & Sunday evenings to bring her a bit of dinner & give her her meds. The rest of the week and weekend mornings, various other family members check on her.
|Granny, me, & baby Trin|
When your childhood is spent receiving inconsistent love and attention from your parents, you form a stronger attachment to the people who provide consistency and stability. In my case, it was my Granny & Grandma. They each filled a different and specific role in my young life, helping mold and shape me into who I am today. Granny took the role of emotional support, giving me someone with whom to share my innermost thoughts and feelings. She also imparted to me a lot of priceless advice on life, love, and the beauty of independence. Grandma took the role of caretaker. Being the mother of 12 children left very little time for emotional nurturing, but honed her ability for taking care of people's fundamental needs. She fed, clothed, and supported my brother & I more often than not. Her home was somewhere I always felt secure, loved, and clean. (I know the cleanliness thing seems trivial, but trust me: when you live in a home where general disorder reigns, you crave daily showers, clean laundry, and everything in it's place.) Were it not for her, I can't honestly say where I would be right now. You never truly understand the depth of need for a caretaker until you've been a child without one. She is as priceless to me as anyone and my gratitude and love for her is never-ending.
Having dealt with dementia before, I'm frightened. I have some clue as to what my Grandma is facing and I know that it is ugly and merciless. Obviously, I would prefer that neither of my Grandmas have to deal with any illness, particularly one that affects their minds. But ever the glass-half-full kind of girl, I have to acknowledge how useful hindsight can be. I am in the unique position to take the lessons learned from one influential figure in my life and use it to benefit another. I could never make nearly the impact on them as my Grandmas have made on me. Never in a million years could I even begin to scratch the surface!! When Granny passed away, my one comfort was knowing I was able to give back to her some small piece of what she gave to me. Now I have the opportunity to do the same for my Grandma. Certain bad experiences are inevitable, but they shape us in painfully beautiful ways. In retrospect, we realize that it is the hardest lessons that make the biggest impact.