Sunday, April 24, 2011

Some Amazing Old Polaroids and Visiting Grandpa's Grave for Easter

My sister and brother-in-law had Grandma and I over for Easter dinner today. They made a lovely meal and Grandma enjoyed seeing them. When we were driving away she told me that they were a nice family and she would like to have them over to get better acquainted and make them a potica (a Slovenian dessert she used to make). And while we were there she told my sister she was going to have to find a ride home because "one of the Perbilsky boys" had given her a ride over there (I drove her, of course). So, her mind was not really getting into gear today.

On our way back home we drove past a random row of houses and she said, "My husband died in one of those houses". Not at all true, but I just nodded and kept on driving. Ten minutes later we were driving past the cemetery where my Grandpa is buried and I decided on the spur of the moment that I should take her to visit his grave because she hadn't been able to go there for a long time while she was in the hospital and then the nursing home, and she is Catholic, so Easter is an important holiday to her. As we drove through the entrance she said, "This is where my husband is buried." I couldn't believe she could recognize it! I mean, she doesn't even recognize the house we live in together as the one she lived in for 9 years before going to the nursing home. Even though she had said the random house was where he had died, I do believe she really knew he was buried at the cemetery.

And somehow I knew where his grave was even though I had only been there for the funeral 10 years earlier. I was so hesitant to take here there, but it didn't feel right to ignore it for my own convenience either. I don't know if bringing her there was the right thing to do or not. But I asked her if she would like to go to his grave and she said yes. So, I got her out of the car and wheeled her over. We stayed for about ten minutes and she cried and talked to him the whole time. I cried. It was so heartbreaking to hear how much she misses him. She's cried about him ever since he died, but being at his grave brought it out from a little deeper than I'd seen in a while. On the tombstone, right above their last name "Prasnicki" it says "Together Forever", and I just hope they can be together again.

We left and drove over to my parents to get their newspapers and check on the house and then we drove another 15 minutes into Simpsonville for ice cream. She did really well the whole way. But when I got back in the car after going inside to get ice cream she asked me if Grandpa recognized me. I said, "no, I don't think so," just to play along since that is the current advice to people dealing with dementia. We finished our ice creams, but she kept saying "I wonder where he is." And when I couldn't find the car key for a minute she said, "oh, John probably has it". Then it went downhill. She was convinced that he was there in the bathroom and that we had left him. She cried and yelled at me the whole way home about how she couldn't believe I would just leave him there. I tried to reason with her and tell her he was dead and that we had just visited his grave, but she wasn't hearing me. It wasn't getting through.

I got her home, took her to the bathroom and put her to bed right away. The tears were dry when she hit the pillow, so hopefully she'll be fine in the morning. Well, after I put her to bed I decided to look through some of her old photo albums to see if I could find any cool old photos to put on the walls. I found these gems!

Wow. She and my Grandpa John used to love to go on road trips and they loved to fish. I never knew they took a trip to the Bahamas in the early 70s before I was born, but I found a couple of Polaroids from there. The one of them by the airplane is so classic! There is also a shot of Grandpa with a fish and their son Steve (I think) in the background. He looks like he could be one of my modern day friends. Steve is my uncle who died of leukemia in the 70s. And I absolutely love the blurry shot of Grandma with the fish she caught.

Seeing theses photos today made me understand her pain so much more. She lost the best friend that she had through her whole adult life. They had eight children together, traveled, worked hard and even got themselves to the Bahamas when that was a luxury for the rich (which they most definitely were not). In this moment I think I am the most envious I have ever been of long lasting love between a man and a woman. These photos and the pain I saw on my Grandma's face today made me understand something I didn't think I could comprehend since I've never felt it for myself. I don't have any concrete beliefs about what happens after we die, but right now I hope more than anything that my Grandpa is there waiting for her on the other side.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Grandma Sings a Couple of Tunes

My grandma has a couple of songs she likes to sing. Back in the day, she and my grandpa were very into polka music. My grandpa played a little accordion and they both would sing. Now, as her dementia takes over, she can't get through all of the verses, and she makes some up, but she tries hard and she enjoys it. I shot some video of her out on the back patio tonight. Sometimes she does better than she did tonight, but you never know what you're gonna get with her from one moment to the next. Tonight when I tucked her in she asked me to call her parents to let them know she was staying over because she didn't want them to worry.

Please pardon my rookie DSLR and iMovie skills...

Friday, April 15, 2011

California Dreamin'

Last night I spent some time in California. It started with a spring snowboarding trip in the Sierras with some guys, but the details are hazy. I remember looking back up at deep powder tracks in the back country, feeling that wet, clammy sweat that built up on the hike-up starting to chill as the sun was setting and the run was over, and then getting into the car. At the end of the trip we returned to San Francisco, but I needed to get back to Oakland, so I borrowed "my guy friend's older brother's friend's car" (this is how I would later describe it to the police). It was a little beater of a car, but got me on the road.

I went and picked up my friend Vera for some brunch and shoe shopping in the city before heading back to the east bay. I also had my Polaroid camera with me and wanted to take some shots while driving through the city, and conveniently, Grandma was suddenly in the car and offered to drive. Vera and I sat in the back as Grandma drove like a crazy person up and down the hills, scaring the bejezus out of V and me. We started yelling, "Stop! Stop!", but she wasn't stopping due to not being able to hear us over the hum and rattle of the beater.

Finally she stopped at a red light, and Vera and I jumped out of the car so that I could take the wheel, but dementia got the better of grams and she seemed to figure she was just dropping us off, so off she went into the city on her own. Panicked, we set off on foot chasing the speeding granny through the city, shouting, "Stop Driving? Stop Driving!". She looked back, almost seeming to hear, but didn't stop.

That architectural walking tour and that Vera and I took a couple of years ago and the visions of the Maltese Falcon seemed to come back to me, as we followed the routes through the public rooftop gardens feeling a bit Sam Spade, but with Clark Griswold style. At some point I pulled a parkour maneuver off the roof and emerged through a port-a-potty at street level. I shouted to Vera, "I feel like a superhero!", and we laughed.

Vera morphed into my friend Jessica sometime during the chase, and we continued running all over the city. Moments later grandma flies past us in the car, but she is no longer driving she is just ghost riding in the back seat (no driver). She had "stopped driving", taking me literally, but not stopping. Soon, the car came to a halt safely at the bottom of a hill and I caught up to her. Jessica had gone around the corner in case grandma didn't stop and would intercept her at the next corner. But I got to her and got her out of the car and hugged her and hugged her.

Unfortunately, Grandma happened to be wearing a sheriff's uniform for some reason and it attracted the attention of two officers who just had to come and meet this 90-something woman sheriff. I was so flustered, that as I babbled out an incoherent explanation about her dementia and how she was lost and had just been coasting in the car, and that she wasn't really a sheriff, but just liked the outfit, and how that wasn't a real gun in the holster, this just prompted them to search the car for illicit material that could have put me in my state of mind. And then they literally took the car apart, like a cartoon car. Doors, the roof, etc, came off piece by piece. As I fumbled for identification after they found the weed of the "guy friend's older brother's friend" (they always have a stash in their beater cars, right?) Grandma wandered off. Somehow I talked my way out of the whole thing and they let me go find my grandma.

After a bit of a search with no luck I wandered back to Jessica's house (who in real life lives in Oakland, and somehow that's where we were now). As I walked in I was relieved to find Grandma there, just hanging out with Jessica like nothing had ever happened. Jess had found her in the meantime. Whew! I got Grandma up to take her home and as we walked out the door I grabbed and snapped the back of her bra strap and said, "Now, let's go get you a new biscuit holster. I know this one is too tight." Ha!

And that was it. I had a great adventure, got to see some great friends, invented a euphemism for bra, and had closure in a dream for maybe the first time ever. I know exactly where the anxiety that caused this dream came from. Grandma has been getting up on her own while I am out in the yard and it scares me to death that she is going to fall and break her hip. Yesterday I bought a baby monitor that is good to 2000+ feet, so I can take it to the garden with me, so hopefully that will help and I won't have to come back to the house every 5 to 10 minutes for a check-in.

We're falling into some sort of routine. I'd say the honeymoon period is over and reality has set in, but this is good for me. I can't just break-up with her and move on. There's a new sheriff in town; I hope it's good for her.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A New Wheelchair Ramp

I've been with grandma for two weeks today. We've had a tough time getting up and down the front steps, so I was so excited when my mom and dad came over to build a wheelchair ramp this morning. Now it will be so much easier for grandma and I to go on walks, go into town, and even just get out in the yard together. My dad is an amazing handyman; unfortunately his style is more analogous to a skater or a plumber. I helped with the project, screwing in the last half of the boards so my dad wouldn't have to bend over so much.  Check out the photos and you'll understand. ;) You will also see grandma watching the action (wink, wink) and my mom giving her a little test run. The before and after sunburned bum shots may let you know how long dad was at it. Thank you mom and dad. And extra thanks dad for letting us all have this giggle at your expense.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Hugs, Kisses and the Pee Pee Pants

I woke up at 4AM wondering why I hadn't yet heard, "Can somebody please help me?! Can somebody please take me to the bathroom?". Like a nervous parent I went into Grandma's bedroom to check on her and she was sleeping just fine, so I went back to bed. 15 minutes later I got the call, but for a change it was , "Julie!" (that's my mom's we're getting in the right ballpark). I switched her water pill from bedtime to morning hoping that she wouldn't wake me up four times throughout the night to go to the bathroom and it seems to have helped. It's either that or the fact that I am trying to keep her awake more throughout the day so that she is actually sleeps through the night. It's kind of a catch-22 because in order for me to get things done during the day it is better if she is sleeping, but in order for me to get a restful sleep it is better to keep her awake. Oh well, we're working it out.

So, at 4:15 I go in and take her to the bathroom and somehow she has gotten  herself out from under the covers and is seated down at the end of the bed. A few nights ago she had gotten herself into her wheelchair and halfway to the bathroom. I wonder what she would have done if she could have reached her walker before the wheelchair got a little stuck in the carpet. It's funny because she doesn't seem capable of these things when I am helping her. Anyhooo... last night I brought her the walker and as we were walking to the bathroom I am looking behind us and seeing a little pee dribble trail between the bed and us. It steadily increased as we got to the toilet. I couldn't believe the double layer of diapers had failed me!

So, as I'm stooping, trying to get her diapers off, crammed between the toilet, the walker and grandma in the tiny little nook at the end of the bathroom, tired and annoyed that I am going to have to clean the carpet and mop and sanitize the linoleum at 4:30AM, as urine is pooling around my feet, and she's shouting at me that the floor is all wet and I'm trying to tell her it's because she is pissing all over the place, but she can't hear me because her hearing aids are on the bedside table, what does she do next, she does what she always does when I am in the middle of helping her with anything—she starts hugging and kissing me. I started to shout back, "Grandma, this is no time for hugging and kissing—focus!" But I realized she had no idea she was peeing all over the floor and herself and me, and she couldn't hear me anyway, so I succumbed to her love and affection.

Once I got her all cleaned up and back into bed, and got the bathroom and myself all cleaned up and back into bed I was able to get a few hours more sleep. I was up for a while and it was getting to be late in the morning, so I decided to go wake her up so that I could get outside to start working in my new garden. So the first thing she had to do was go to the bathroom. As we were walking to the bathroom I noticed we were leaving behind another pee pee trail! Dammit! Double diapers fail again and she didn't have a water pill at night. The trail through the bathroom got worse. Pee was pouring out of the diaper. But this time the fault was mine. Somehow at 4:30 in the morning I had managed to put the diaper on inside out, so the plastic liner was on the inside repelling all the liquid. Ugh!

It was my turn to initiate the hugs and kisses, which she devoured of course, then re-clean the carpet, shower grandma and bleach the hell out of the linoleum. She finally got breakfast around 11:15 and she's now sitting on the deck watching the birds. I need to go fix her hair before the birds build a nest in at and then it is finally out to the garden.

It just cracks me up that no matter what she does and how I am trying to manage it, she is constantly grabbing for a hug and kiss. I can be bent over her giving her a full-on lecture about why I want her to stop blowing her nose and wiping her mouth on her clean shirt. And she'll say, "ok sweetie" and reach for the kiss. Oh grandma. xo

Monday, April 4, 2011

Some Photos After Dinner

Today was the first day since I've had grandma that I got a little time to myself. My mom took her to a hearing aid appointment and I went to Whole Foods. Yeah, big day out, I know.  It was in the 80s today here in the upstate, and I was excited to get home to fire up the bbq. So, I bought some fish and we ate that with some green beans and mushrooms on the back deck and watched the sunset. We finished up with some chocolate chip cookies.

I had bought grandma a new outfit last night at Target while we were in town since most of her clothes are stained from her time in the nursing home. I was thinking she looked awfully pretty tonight so I got a few shots of her. I put this apron on her for every meal because she ends up wearing a good portion of it. So, I had to get one of her still wearing it and eating her cookie.

 Oh, as we were finishing dinner she asked, "Where did our little boy go?".
"What little boy?", I asked.
"The one who brought home the groceries," she replied.
"That was me,  grandma".
Confused stare...

The images look so much better big, so I recommend you click on them individually.

And thank you to everyone who sent me a message today to wish me luck and tell me how they enjoyed the new blog, etc. It really means a lot and I will get back to you eventually. Goodnight! xoxoxo, B

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Week One Complete

It hasn't even been a month since I moved out of the old firehouse where I was living in the bay area. This whole thing happened so quickly—I am just catching my breath. On March 1, 2011 my grandma was given 28 days notice to vacate the assisted living facility where she was living. Apparently her dementia was getting the better of her and she got the boot when she punched someone and got a little extra rowdy. My friend's comment sums it up nicely; "Wow, your grandma is a badass." And yes, yes she is.

So with all of the nursing homes in the area being full, my family was at a loss as to what to do with her bad ass and for some bizarre reason, I immediately volunteered to come and do this. I didn't even have to think about it, I just knew I wanted to. Being commitment phobic to pretty much everything had put me in a perfect position to be able to easily walk away from my life there. I have no man, no kids, and a flexible, freelance photography career that can be done from anywhere. So, I packed my stuff into some shipping cubes, drove across the country and moved in to my grandmother's house with her. And now I have survived week one, fully committed. Whew.

We just had our first outing this evening after staying home all week. She can walk a few steps with a walker, but most of her movement is via wheelchair, and I have an SUV, so getting her down the front four steps and into and out of the car was something I was saving for the right day. I had her out in the yard with me today while I turned the garden soil with a shovel, and when I was done I figured since I already had her down the steps, it would be a good time to just get her in the car. It was not pretty, but we managed.

We went to Moe's Southwest Grill in Simpsonville because I knew they had an outside table that would make it easy. I parked in a distant corner of the parking lot so I could get her out of the car and into the wheelchair without having to share our clown show with everyone. I had all of her limbs twisted up like a pretzel by the time she landed in the chair, and she looked up at me and said, "Aren't we a couple of bachelors?". Haha.

My grandma can barely hear as it is, but one of her hearing aids broke yesterday and it has made it almost impossible to communicate with her ever since (we get that fixed tomorrow). Add that to the fact that her dementia and general old-age has her grasping for words and often just making up some crazy babble. Also, she doesn't know who I am. When I picked her up from the nursing home, I asked her if she knew who I was and she said Larry.  My mom said everyone with short hair is a guy in her world. The eyesight is pretty shot, too. In the middle of the night she yells out in the most politest loud shout, "Can somebody please come take me to the bathroom?!". And somehow I hear this across the house and make it to her side.

I heard her in the night two other times this week when she was not needing help with the bathroom. The first time was super cute. She was talking in her sleep and was saying in a cooing voice, "You are such a nice little boy. Do you go to school?..." But then last night she was shouting, "Julie! Liz! Somebody help! Get her! Get her!" I sprinted in there and flashed on the light. She was wild eyed, still shouting, eyes darting around the room. Apparently there was a chicken in there and she needed me to catch it and get it out. So, I did my best to play along, took her to the bathroom and put her back to bed and she didn't mention it again.

It's a huge change, but I have to say I am enjoying it. And she is, too. She doesn't recognize her house, but she loves it here. She sleeps most of the time and it's very quiet here, so it is great for her. That's about it for now. I'll check back in soon.