Husband and I moved Gran's husband - my Grandpa - to a home where he would spend his last days but prior to that we were the ones called upon when he needed help after falling and things of that nature. Then we moved Gran to her apartment so we could move into what was their house, the house where I lived as a wee girl and where my family currently lives. Later, we moved her into her current home and visit her there fairly often with our kids. Husband and I have spent a lot of our time caring for my maternal grandparents in one way or another: getting rid of their things after the moves, transporting them to and from facilities and appointments and holidays... You name it, he and I do or have done it over the past six years. This past Thanksgiving, though, we had an experience that has forced us to re-examine how involved we will be in the future.
Gran is now 89-years old and will be 90 in March. At each of the family gatherings that she has attended over the past year, she has gotten progressively worse. What started as confusion has led to her falling asleep in the center of screaming children or just putting her head in her hands while she closes her eyes. She hardly eats and if she does she can't remember that she has. She doesn't participate in conversation because she is not only hard of hearing but is very confused. In the car riding to and fro she is very repetitive. I was the one to bring her to my mom's for Thanksgiving - a rather small affair since my brother and his family were in Vegas - just my family of four, Gran and my mom. In the car, she basically kept repeating how the ladies really dolled her up but she seemed in good spirits. I figured this holiday would be the same as any other - totally abnormal without my dad, but a good time nonetheless.
I knew right away things weren't good when she couldn't understand that Christa was not a boy. After about 15 minutes she asked me "Are you happy? With the three of you?" referring to me, Husband and my mom. I responded confusedly that since dad had passed, this was the way it was so yes I guessed I was happy. She asked if mom's house was my house and when I told her no, that I lived across town in my own house, she was very angry about it, saying it should be my house. Then she just kept asking me if I was happy over and over and each time I replied yes, trying to figure out what she was getting at. I guess when I was out of the room, she asked Husband the same question. After about an hour of that, it was time to have dinner.
The moment she sat at the table she began shaking like a leaf and just looked distressed. I assumed she was cold so I offered her coffee or tea which she declined. She insisted she wanted to go home and that she had her reasons that she didn't care to share with us. I told her she could lie down until the rest of us had eaten and then one of us would take her back. When she and I were away from everyone else I asked her what was going on and she looked terrified when she told me she thought Husband and my mother were having an affair. With tears in my eyes, I reassured her they were not and that she was just tired and confused. That was when she told me she was not well. Mom took her back to the home and said the entire ride Gran kept asking her what she'd tell the home, as if she thought she was in trouble.
It has become blatantly obvious that her world inside that home is about as much as she can handle. Bringing her to these gatherings is more harmful than beneficial despite how much she likes to watch the children play. On Sunday, mom and I brought Gran some Christmas decorations and she had zero recollection that she was even a part of Thanksgiving. She also implied that I didn't bring my kids to visit her when I do at least once a month. And over the course of our 45-minute visit, she asked about her lunch no less than 30 times. I love my Gran but she's gone now and has been replaced with a hostile, defensive, confused old woman. It makes me sad to think she is no longer able to handle spending time with us "on the outside." Her home is her safety bubble and that is where she'll likely remain until she is no longer alive. All I can do is take comfort in the fact that I can visit her where she is taken care of and is safe but an era has passed.
Getting old is a terrifying prospect. I think equally upsetting, though, was to see how unhappy this holiday left me and Husband. All this time I think we have been putting my family first when really, he and I and our kids need to be our focus. After dad died, he and I put our own grief aside to be there for my mother but all of us are grieving and really her grief should not have taken priority over our own. Thanksgiving has made me realize that a shift in my focus and my efforts absolutely needs to be made. 2015 will be the year of Friday. And every year after that. Life is only so long, you know. We can't be living it for anyone but the four of us Fridays.