As many of you know, the person I’ve only known as a grandfather, Lionel, has Alzheimer’s. It has gotten worse and these past few months have been difficult for my family. I decided to write a fairly personal post on CultureMap about it. It was a tough one to write.
“Yesterday, Lionel couldn’t make it to the bathroom fast enough,” my mother told me. “I guess he made quite the mess.”
I lingered on the mental image of this for a few seconds before I answered my mother.
“Why is he unable to make it to the bathroom in time?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I guess he can’t walk fast enough.”
“He told Grandma that he should just kill himself.”
The only man I’ve ever known as a grandfather has Alzheimer’s. I spoke about his disease in the past, but so much has changed since then. The tipping point has dropped. We were fearful it would come with a loud bang, but instead it’s been a never-ending, tortuous whisper.
Lionel recently moved out of my grandmother’s home, into a hospital, then into an assisted living facility. We knew this day would come, but deep down maybe we thought it wouldn’t. Lionel had been falling frequently, and 911 was called after one fall left him uncontrollably shaking. His blood sugar was imbalanced due to habitual ice cream eating.
“Lionel won’t stop buying ice cream!” my grandmother told me 12 months ago. “My freezer is about to burst!” She would turn the phone away from her mouth and scold him for sneaking ice cream out of the freezer.
That was the beginning, and we had no idea what we were in for.
Once Lionel was in the hospital, we knew there was no turning back. The next step was an assisted living facility. How was Lionel going to take it? How was Grandma going to take it?
As my grandmother puts it, she’s not sure she’s ever loved Lionel, but she cares about him. You get used to having someone around for fifteen years. She comes from the generation that even if you don’t love someone, you take care of them. Everyone before you.
“Maybe Lionel doesn’t really have Alzheimer’s”, my grandmother will say to my mom. “Maybe I should still take care of him.”
“You’re 85-years-old, you’ll die taking care of him before he does!”
My grandmother’s life has been turned upside down. Needless to say, Lionel’s life has been turned upside down, shaken violently and thrown against the wall. Lionel thinks he’s staying in a hotel. He calls Grandma and tells her that he hates her for leaving him at this hotel and stuck with the bill.
Later he calls and tells her that he loves her and that if they get married, maybe everything will be okay. Sometimes he calls her and tells her he hopes she dies. It’s her fault that he is that way.