At the end of this month my maternal grandmother will celebrate her 80th birthday...maybe. Most likely she won't because she's dying but technically she's been dying for almost five years.
About six years ago my grandmother started showing signs of dementia. Leaving the house without shoes. Compulsively buying lottery scratch tickets. Stockpiling batteries. While my mother was figuring out how we were going to deal with this major life change, my grandmother almost died. Congestive heart failure combined with a large aneurysm also on her heart. However she did not die. Quite the opposite, in fact, she thrived. After much debate it was decided that it would be best for my Gram to be moved into a 'residence'. Now I don't know about you but the nursing homes give me the creeps. It's like Hotel California for the elderly, check out any time you like but you can never leave. Anyway doesn't matter because grandma would be taken care of and we could visit whenever we wanted. And as it turned out it was a pretty nice place. Food was good. Activities were fun. The other residents were interesting to say the least. Wednesday nights were especially fun yet particularly torturous. Wednesday nights were 'Pub Nights'. The residents would gather in the common room to listen to live musicians and have drinks and snacks. Grandma enjoyed these nights. Singing along and clapping and having her diet ginger ale with no ice. Now although it was nice to see my grandmother having fun, there's only so many times you can sing along to the song 'Green Green Grass of Home' with a smile on your face.
The best 'Pub Night' was a Christmas show. The entertainer was just as old as the folks he was entertaining complete with bad Christmas sweater and polyester pants. Three quarters of the way through his show he runs from the room. Now Gram liked to sit as near to the door as possible so we could beat the traffic jam of walkers and wheelchairs when 'Pub Night' was done. So when Old Polyester ran from the room, we had front row seats for the trail of stink he left in his wake. The man had crapped himself!! I don't think any of the residents had realized what had happened and the staff were trying to quietly deal with it. But on the way back to her room my grandmother kept announcing "I think that man soiled himself!" Hilarity.
Two years ago she stopped going to 'Pub Nights'. In fact my grandmother stopped doing a number of things. Understanding conversation. Enjoying food. Recognizing her granddaughter. My gram's mental and physical health had started to decline. So the birthday and holiday celebrations stopped. The visiting whenever we wanted stopped. And then a little over a year ago my grandmother's intake of solid food stopped. She became too thin. Too shrunken. Too gray. Too papery. That woman barely resembled the woman I knew as my grandmother. Each time I would visit, the change in her would be more shocking than the last. We have had many close calls and false alarms since. Relieved, of course, that she hadn't died and constantly astonished that she was still going.
Well today I got 'The Call'. The call from the nursing home that informed me that my grandmother could die at any moment. If I would like to say my goodbyes and my I love yous, I should come straight away to do so. The staff would be making her 'comfortable' soon and she may not know I was in the room if she was 'comfortable'. So that's what I did. I went and said goodbye and I love you to the living corpse that was once my grandmother. The worst part of my day though was the realization that I knew nothing about her. I don't know any stories of her childhood. I never heard about her wedding day. She never passed down a secret recipe. Family were the people you were stuck with when you really wanted to be with your friends, not the other way around. I missed out on a great opportunity by not getting to know my grandmother. A generation of my family is dying. Today I say YES to appreciating family.