Grandma and Lionel ate Burger King kids meals tonight. They bought Lucy the Jack Russell Terrier one too.
“I don’t cook anymore because Lionel can’t chew!” Grandma explains to me.
“I thought he just got new teeth, Grandma?”
“Yeahhh, but they hurt. They don’t fit him right.”
She had already changed the subject three times. Grandma didn’t want to talk about the elephant in the room.
I don’t even particularly want to write about it.
“What did Lionel’s son say, Grandma?”
A pause, then my grandmother’s familiar shielded acknowledgement and dismissal of my question due to Lionel’s close proximity to her.
“Mom said he wants to put Lionel in a home?” I ask quietly.
I hear Lionel’s booming voice in the background, asking for mock help as Lucy tongue whips his face.
“Hold on a second,” my grandma says as I hear her small footsteps walk towards the bedroom.
She gets really quiet. “They want to put him in Walden Oaks. We went over there today to take a look, ” her voice quavers a bit, “but I don’t think he’s ready. It’s not time yet!”
My grandmother rarely cries. She comes from a generation where you don’t “burden” others with your emotions. You stay strong. Always. Maybe it is the pain she is experiencing with a recent bout of Shingles that is making her break down? Or maybe it’s her fear that once Lionel leaves the house she will be all alone? Or maybe, despite all the yelling and screaming at him, despite all the years of frustration, she simply will miss Lionel the person once he is gone.
“Grandma, but you yell at him all of the time because he’s not able to help you. He’s sick. It’s not a good situation. Won’t this be better?”
She has already regained her composure and changed the subject.
“Let’s talk about you. Why are you feeling so anxious?”
Why am I feeling so anxious? This is a question that I’ve be asking myself a lot lately. Though my anxiety has manifested into a concern for my safety due to living in the more “rugged” part of Austin, I can’t help but feel that it’s been compounded by my family’s new found realities that I’m having difficulty accepting- Lionel is sick. His Alzheimer’s will only get worst. Lionel will be put into assisted living. Grandma will have to adjust to this. Grandma is 84. Though she is in good health for the most part, Mom fears she can’t live alone. Maybe she will move into my Mom’s house across the street. Maybe the time has come when the child parents the parent. My Mom is 60. She is bored. She is tired of the small town she was raised and stay in. My mom and grandmother should leave and come here, but I’m not sure they ever will. I am 1,721 miles away and I’m physically unable to help with any of this. All I can be is emotional support over the phone and sometimes that is difficult for me.We expect our parents to be the rock- but my mom is scared of what the future holds and my grandma is scared of what the future holds and I guess I should be too?
But when I was talking to Grandma, I didn’t want to talk about my anxiety- though it had consumed a part of me yesterday. I wanted to change the subject.
“Grandma, I want you to know that you can talk to me about this at any time. I don’t want you to keep it bottled up. I want you to feel free to share how you feel, ok?”
I worry about her. Because of her idea that you must keep things in, because of her idea that if you are feeling sad or are in pain and shouldn’t talk about it, she has been miserable. She’s frustrated. She hates herself, she says.
“I can’t move like I used to and Lionel is of no help! If I wasn’t in pain it would be ok, but I don’t think the pain is ever going away!”
She yells at Lionel when he forgets to take out the trash. She yells at Lionel when he falls asleep again and again on the couch. She yells at Lionel when he hits the wrong buttons on the coffeemaker.
“Grandma, you have to stop doing this. He’s sick. He forgets. He can’t help it. Yelling at him will do both of you no good.”
And it won’t. Alzheimer’s support groups will tell you that trying to combat with a person afflicted with the disease will not work. It will make them angry and sad and more confused. It will only make the opposer more and more frustrated. It is not like Grandma to yell at someone but like anyone in pain- emotional or physical- you are not always yourself.
Neither Lionel or Grandma are the selves they were 50 years ago or 25 years ago or even 2 years ago. Last year there was no diagnosis to the evident memory loss that Lionel was experiencing. Now, now things are changing so quickly and none of us can hold on.