Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Until last weekend, I had never met Slappy's grandmother. I have heard numerous stories, both good and bad, but had never seen a picture nor met her in person. Part of this is because she's lived in Florida the entire time I've known Slappy and part of it is because she has rather advanced Alzheimer's Disease.

Earlier this year, Slappy's parents moved her to California to a facility that could provide her better care and the transition has been rough. So when Slappy's mother suggested that we go visit her this past weekend, I was nervous. I didn't know what to expect, both of her in general (um, have you met her daughter? Right, you haven't, but you've read about her...) and of her state of mental clarity.

Even with these worries, Slappy and I embarked on the 2 mile journey before leaving town on Monday. We found the facility, signed in and rode the elevator up the 3 flights of stairs to the Alzheimer's floor and then found someone who worked there, because we didn't know where she'd be.

Slappy's grandma was asleep on the couch so Slappy woke her up and she was pretty startled. She immediately asked Slappy if she was dead, and when he told her she wasn't, she looked at him and said, "No, I really think I'm dead." And no, technically the words weren't funny, but the way she said it was a little humorous.

I was taken aback at how much my MIL looks like her mother. Slappy looks like like his father, so I knew those genetics were strong, but after seeing Slappy's grandma, I'm pretty sure my children stand no chance of looking a thing like me.

After we convinced her that she was alive, we suggested that we move out of the (really loud) tv room into her room to chat. We got to the hallway and she didn't know where her room was. She decided she was pretty sure it was down the right hallway and after looking we found her room and entered.

Aside from not knowing where her room was, she seemed really lucid to me. She did say that she thought she was dead several times, but, you know, that's not even on the scale of the strangest things to come out of a grandparent's mouth.

We had a short conversation where Slappy reminded her of who he was and introduced me. We talked about why we were in Los Angeles and that Slappy and I would be living there soon. She was polite, attentive and really just lovely. She said I was a pretty girl and she complimented my name.

And then there was a small pause, she blinked her eyes briefly and then she asked us where we were staying. A conversation we had just finished. Slappy very patiently repeated where we were staying, what we were doing, etc. She seemed completely okay with who he was, but my presence was confusing and she asked us if we were married or not.

And then she paused, blinked and asked us where we were staying again. And then if we were married.

Pause, blink, repeat.

And on about the 4th or 5th pass at the questions, when we told her we were married, she said, "if you're married, why didn't I go to your wedding?"

And in that moment, my heart shattered into a million pieces. Because, you know what? She should've been there. She's his grandmother, and it's profoundly tragic that she isn't capable of attending things like her grandson's wedding.

And then 2 minutes later, she asked us again. And honestly, it didn't feel any better the second time. And while she most certainly won't remember that we visited or that we got married, I will always remember that moment and the way it felt to explain to her that she couldn't go.

After several more cycles we told her we had to leave and she thanked us so graciously for coming to visit her. She said she was so glad to see us, gave us a hug, paused for a second, and then asked if we were leaving. We told her goodbye again, hugged and left before she'd have a chance to get confused and start over again.

The experience was heart wrenching, truly, yet I'm glad I went. I'm glad I got to meet his grandmother, even if without her short term memory. I'm glad I got to hear her spout off Yiddish in her New York accent and see her warm smile when she thanked us for coming.

Someday when I'm old and my grandchildren are grown, I hope they'll come visit me, even if I think I'm dead and even if they're scared of what they'll find. Because beneath the disease and beneath the haze, there was a really genuine woman in there and I'm so very glad I got to meet her.


Lipstick Jungle said...

What a sweet and wonderful visit - even with the hiccups and the horrible feeling you had about her not attending your wedding, it was special because it sounds like she was more than you expected. I am glad you made the trip to see her, and I hope you have that chance again!

Dont fret over the wedding. Jims grandmother checked herself into the hospital the day we were married so she didnt have to ride the boat with a lot of people she didnt know - I never allowed myself to feel bad because I knew she would have been confused and miserable. Remind yourself of that when you feel bad about her not being there. She would have been very confused - probably agitated and most likely never remember it in the first place.

Take care pretty girl!

Insomniac said...

It's hard to watch someone lose their memory like that, but it sounds like you and Slappy handled it beautifully. And she sounds like she's really a very sweet woman.

Sue G said...

Katie, you have such a tender heart. Oh, I know you try to hide it behind your quick wit and rapier tongue, but you really are an old soul.

So many kids today (and, yes, still in your 20's qualifies you as a kid) can't see beyond the next "me" moment. Yet, you really empathized with this woman, with all she lost. I guess the gift in Alzheimer's is that she can't comprehend what she's lost.

Thanks for a poignant story that reminds us that we can always reach out and connect with someone...even if that someone isn't able to connect with much herself.

You dun good, kid.

Melissa said...

Beautiful post. My husband's grandmother also had Alzheimer's. She couldn't attend our wedding and died just two weeks later. It still makes me sad that I never got to meet her, even as the disease stole so much of the woman my husband grew up knowing and loving.

Flea said...

How sweet. I'm so glad it was a pleasant visit, even if it was heart breaking in some ways.

But holy crap, woman! Does living in CA mean you'll be near the MIL? Did I miss that part?