My grandparents are nuts

My grandparents are nuts.

No really, it’s okay if we throw that pejorative around. They’re so crazy at this juncture that they won’t mind. They really won’t. And if they’re not going to take offense, I certainly don’t give a crap about ruffling anyone else’s feathers (and if you are a self-righteous ninny, hit the “back” or “x” tab already).

My grandmother has suffered from Alzheimer’s for years. It’s been hellish for everyone who’s witnessed her decline. If you want to watch the mind’s bulwarks come undone like so many layers of an onion, just sit back and watch an Alzheimer’s patient. The occasional bouts of forgetfulness eventually gave way to the dramatic flightiness of a schoolgirl, which in turn yielded to the mercurial mood swings of a small child. I knew it was getting bad when she attacked Mom, who was taking trash out to the curb. She was convinced Mom was a burglar. And then…the old gal’s doors and windows to the outside world slammed shut, one by one. Before I left the country last year, I’d still get the occasional flicker of recognition out of her. She’d smile, tell me that she loved me, and then she was gone again. These days, there’s nothing. Those 30 to 60 second intervals of lucidity are gone forever. She just sits there now, like a sad wax sculpture.

My grandfather started his own slow trek towards senility a few years ago. While his dementia wasn’t nearly as pronounced as my grandmother’s, you knew that conversations could only last 20 to 30 minutes before his internal “reset” switch tripped and you had to start all over again. His temper (which wasn’t the greatest during the best of days) became an exposed livewire. If you treaded lightly and kept the conversation far, far away from my grandmother’s health or their crumbling finances, you were okay.  I hoped we’d get a few more years of coherence out of the old codger before nature finally took its course and shuffled him off this mortal coil. I hoped and prayed that he wouldn’t stick around so long that he wound up with the functionality of an eggplant.

Well, that wasn’t in the cards. He took a nasty fall this weekend, which shattered his hip and scrambled whatever was left of his brains. The chemical cocktails employed to alleviate his pain probably delivered the coup de grace. He hallucinates. His speech is incomprehensible. He’ll recognize us one minute and show no signs of acknowledgment the next. He is incapable of feeding himself. He can no longer drink or swallow. Like my grandmother, he is wholly dependent on his caretakers. He is an invalid at this point, and I foresee little – if any – improvement.

When I’m thrust into these types of situations, my natural tendency is to seek out the funny and weird things around me, lest I wallow in the misery around me. The old man unknowingly contributed a few of those moments over the past few days. We keep hoping that he’ll remember how to swallow fluid, but every time you put a straw in his mouth all he does is blow bubbles. The last time I attempted that today, he shot me a brief look today that I could ONLY construe as “look kid, we BOTH know this ain’t happening. Now knock it off.” It made me smile for a second while I put his cup away.

The funniest and weirdest moment came this morning. My brother and I sat in the room, made small talk, and reassured my grandfather whenever he started screaming incomprehensibly.

“I wonder what it’s like inside his head right now,” I wondered out loud.

“What are you talking about?” my brother asked.

“I wish I could crawl inside his head for just two minutes and see what he’s thinking about. Are there any coherent thoughts up there? If so, is it just the rest of his body that failed him? Or is his mind gone, like we think it is? And if it is, what is THAT like? Wouldn’t you like to know what that’s like, if only for a few seconds? Maybe we could understand some of this craziness.”

“You’re a damn weirdo,” he muttered.

At that very moment, we looked over at my grandfather. He was staring at the ceiling and making facial contortions like a brook trout. Every time he puckered his lips, he emitted a low braying sound that went something like this:

“Mawromp. Mawromp. Mawromp. Mawromp.”

This went on for 20 seconds or so. My brother and I could only laugh, because it was too damn early in the morning to start crying.

We’re putting both of my grandparents in a nursing home this week. They’ll be together for whatever time is left. I don’t know how much longer either one of them will even be able to recognize the other, or if they’ll even be able to emote that acknowledgment.  In my heart of hearts, I wish they could share this Irving Berlin song one last time.

“I Can’t Remember lyrics”
I met you, I remember
But try as I may
I can’t seem to remember the time or the day
I met you, I remember
That’s all I can say
Was it August or September or April or May?

I can’t remember the first time we met
Was it cloudy or beautiful?

I can’t remember the first words I spoke
Did I say you were beautiful?

Was it Sunday? Was it Monday?
Were you dressed in gray or blue?

I can’t remember
For all I remember is you


6 Comments on “My grandparents are nuts”

  1. cheryl says:

    this is one of the best description to the situation we are going thru. Thank you for spending these couple of days with him. We still have a few hard ones left ahead of us, but with God and each other we can make it thru – Thanks for finding some of the things about all this that can make us smile 🙂 Love you

  2. Cathy says:

    My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Wayne, you are so wonderfully talented. I so enjoy reading your posts on facebook and look forward to reading more.

  3. Zohrbak says:

    Humor is definitely a coping mechanism. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

  4. Heather says:

    I too have gone through this with my grandmother’s decline. In fact, you were with me the day I realized my grandmother was suffering from the disease and had been admitted to the hospital from a fall. I sat in a hotel in Alexandria, just after the Katrina chaos was over, trying to focus on research and finish school, when on the other end of the phone all I heard was “it’s time to come home.” You were there when my world turned upside down because of this disease. I hope I can be there for you as well. My grandmother, unable to speak or see, continually pulled out the feeding tube we had placed through her stomach years before…selfishly trying to keep her around for our sake. We couldn’t stand to lose her. I understand and yes, humor can help. But the best advise I can give you is not based in humor but love. Hold their hands as much as possible. That is one of the things I miss the most.

    • Heather says:

      sorry *advice not advise…can’t spell when tears are in the eyes.

      • dorquemada says:

        No worries. The last couple of days have been rough. The hardest part is coping with the stark realization that the people you loved are long gone…even though they’re still sitting in front of you. I know what needs to be done to keep it together. Now I need to focus on that.

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