Thursday, July 09, 2009

Gramps

My grandma and I went to visit my grandpa one afternoon. I had been dreading it, leaving it until late in the week because his Alzheimer's has robbed him of his memory and recognition. I realized with shame later that I had been thinking of him more as an issue than as a human being.

When we got there, he was in pretty rough shape, obviously tranquilized and despondent. We took him outside to a garden area, which my mom had wisely recommended after her last visit a few weeks ago, and he perked up considerably. Over the next couple of hours, his level of consciousness varied a lot -- at limes it seemed like a window would open up and he'd be quite animated, much more like the grandpa we remember, but then it would close again and he would stare at the ground with his eyes at half mast for several minutes. He often started speaking, but then stumbled on a word and lost the train of thought. At one point he leaned over to Grandma and said, "I like you".

grandpa-curious
In the alert times, he hummed and talked and was quite eager to touch and handle anything we had along with us. At one point I gave him my wallet and he explored it for some time, feeling the texture on the outside and pulling out cards. Then he folded it shut and pretended to slide it into his shirt (as if it was an open jacket with an inside pocket) with a mischievous chuckle. Those moments of clarity were awesome, but also painful because we know that most of the time he's shut down, with little opportunity for engagement.

Uncle John and his wife Ellen dropped in while we were there. He played the harmonica a fair bit, and I had also played a bunch of my viola songs. Grandpa responded well to the music, tapping the beat, singing quietly and giving me a piercing stare as I played. He's got music in his blood, that one. I ended up being very happy to have been with him, to hold his hand and see him respond to Grandma's warmth. It was sad too, of course, but being there helped me see that this is just part of life; a part we don't experience enough, as it's easier to just lock it away.

grandpa-eyes

6 comments:

Gwen said...

Wow -- when I see your gramps, I see Ezra. Thanks for sharing your visit.

tfoxfan said...

Jer,
Thanks for posting this honest, heart-wrench. I can clearly recall those moments of hard stares from Opa when he became incommunicable. I felt they were overwhelmingly intense but for all the right reasons. I felt love, longing to know me more while pride in what he knew, conviction of truth he held dear, resolve to do what he had to and wisdom. Even in moment where communication can not be an option, body language and the eyes tell volumes. You are very accurate to describe that this is part of life that we should experience. The more we do the better we'll get at dealing. And, it's something that brings our self-identity into sharp focus and that's a good thing too.

Jeremy said...

Good eye, Gwen...and you're not the first to spot that resemblance -- I wish I had a toddler photo of Gramps to compare. Tannis's mom mentioned it again last week too.

Jeremy said...

And thank *you* Esther for this wonderful comment. You've nailed it with your words here.

Jules at 7-Imp said...

Jeremy, beautiful. I'm glad you had that time with him. This is another reminder of how cyclical things are, you know? Hope that doesn't sound too woo-woo, as my friend says, or flaky. But he seems so much like a child here, as a lot of really elderly people do.

I had a dream last night that you and your wife visited! Isn't that wild? Of course, it wasn't my house in the dream -- it was, like, my dream-house. You know how dreams are.

Anyway, I'm glad you got to see him.

Jeremy said...

Jules, my apologies -- your wonderful comment was lost in moderation limbo. I wish I could turn it off, but I've had a troll leaving nasty comments lately.

You nailed it with the parallel to childhood. My grandma said they used to refer to old age and senility as "second childhood", but I hadn't ever heard the term before. Dealing with Grandpa was not that different than dealing with Ezra right now -- limited vocabulary, random statements disconnected, responses to warmth and connection...it wasn't hard to know what to do, because in some ways it's so simple...I just had to be present. What was depressing about it is that I can't be present more.

Nifty dream. Wouldn't that be fun? Maybe I can find a conference to attend there or something...
:)