Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Down the Rabbit Hole

First, I fucking hate blogger. H.A.T.E. HATE. Despise even.

Blogger hungry. Eat loooooooooong post. Chomp chomp chomp.

*spits out post that took me 40 minutes to type out in garbled mess*

Burrrrrrrrrrp.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming - I hope.
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How do you reconcile breaking a promise to someone - one you have sworn to with your own life - with the fact that if you truly loved that person, you would have no choice but to break it?

When my Papaw died when I was 12, Granny was petrified of being alone. I lived with her in her little house on May Lane until I was 16 and left for college. For the first time in over fifty years, she was completely and utterly alone - aside from the dog. As much as she feared being alone, the fear of living in a nursing home at some point in the future petrified her. She begged me to promise that I would never force upon her the indignity of living anywhere other than under the roof of the humble home that she owned.

Granny is an incredibly strong woman. She's had over eight documented heart attacks (many more mild ones we're pretty sure of, she carries her nitroglycerin patches and pills religiously), and at least three strokes. She's outlived five siblings, three husbands, one child, and nearly every friend she's ever really had.

She loves to argue, which makes living with her - explosive at best. She knows just what buttons to push, how to make you fold - to give in, to surrender to her. Her rogue, redheaded irish temper could make Russell Crowe look like the posterchild of peaceful existence. We used to tease her that she was simply too mean to die.

Her love is equally as fierce. I can't even begin to tell you how many of my ex-boyfriends have gone back to visit her over the years, long after our own relationships ceased. Old friends in high school, that I haven't seen for nearly a decade still visit from time to time - their kids in tow to meet their "other" Granny. In fact, most people under a certain age only know her as Granny. Her given name, Mary Etta - sound foreign, rolling off my tongue awkwardly. The bank even cashes checks she signs with simply "Granny." Even her doctors call her Granny.

A few years ago after another stroke, it became apparent that she was becoming increasingly forgetful. She would forget to let the dog out to go to the bathroom, she would forget to eat - or to turn off the gas stove when she'd cooked, or to take one of the myriad of her pills. A decision was reached by the family that she could no longer really safely live alone. My mother was working on straightening out her own life, and it seemed to be mutually beneficial for them to move in together.

So, Mom moved into a back bedroom. She worked at first, leaving Granny alone during the day - and coming home to cook and clean for her at night. She gave up living alone to live in a back bedroom, caring for a cantankerous old woman who not only didn't appreciate her - but resented that she was there.

Fiercely independent, Granny lost her privacy - and was forced to share her home with someone else after years of living alone. But truth be told, she slept better at night. She ate regularly, and she didn't miss pills anymore.

It was incredibly difficult for both of them, but it seemed that it was the only way.

After her last stroke, we noticed things just weren't "right." She'd started forgetting little things again, like the difference between "our" and "are" when she was writing letters. Granted the majority of my childhood, I was convinced my name was "Bettye-Tonya-April" (my grandmother's, mother's and my name respectively - run together quickly with a deep Texas drawl). But after the last stroke, we noticed that she was getting confused. She was no longer calling me Tonya because she was just absentminded, she thought I was my mom.

About a month ago, I got a bizarre letter from her in the mail - addressed to "Her Loved Ones" that talked about me. It said that I was having trouble with my marriage (we're definitely not), I had quit school (I graduated law school long ago), had moved over the Thanksgiving without telling her (definitely not true) and I hadn't seen her in over three years (we had just been up at Thanksgiving). I panicked when I read it, and called her immediately. She was chipper, and completely lucid when I talked to her. I finally summoned the courage to ask her about the letter, and she got angry - said she had never written such nonsensical drivel, and why would I say something so hurtful? Yet, there I was, holding stationery that I had bought her, with her distinctive handwriting scrawled across the page.

Last night, I called Mom to check on them - and I knew within seconds that it had gotten much - much worse. Mom said that Granny often forgets who my mom is, instead calling her Faye, her sister that died over 40 years ago. She usually refers to my uncle at "Howard" - her husband's name - and he died in '92. She tries to use the remote control to turn on the stove, or the water in the bathroom. She can no longer shower alone, because she forgets to turn on the cold water, and will scald herself. If not carefully watched, she'll walk up the street - in her gown and no coat. If you ask her where she's going, she'll tell you she doesn't know. And she doesn't. She has no bloomin' idea where she's going or why.

She's become fiercely combative, trading her verbal barbs for physical ones. Granted, she's incredibly frail - and she's not actually inflicting pain - but she's taken to hitting my mother randomly - often with no reason or provocation. She doesn't eat, she stays up all night, and sleeps during the day. She's becoming increasingly paranoid, convinced that people are after her. She threatens to take off in her car, and just drive - and trust me, Granny was never a good driver to begin with.

She hides her pills, then takes them randomly. She talks to the walls. She refuses to bathe, and must be physically forced to shower. Eating is a battle. My mom said it's like living with a two-year old all over again, but one trapped in a woman's body.

She doesn't remember her own pets, and panics when the dog comes in the bedroom to sleep with her, like it has every night for the last five years.

In a tearful apology, mom whispered last night that she was close to a breakdown. "I don't know how to handle this", she sobbed, "I don't have the proper training to take care of her, and I feel like I'm letting everyone down."

Everyone in the family knows, to some degree about her illness. We don't know exactly what it is that's caused it. She's refusing to go to a neurologist, because she's afraid they're going to put her in a home.

My family is in disarray. I'm actually her oldest great-grandchild. Which means, that yes - she has three children, six grandchildren, and five other great-grandchildren who could be shouldering the responsibility. Instead, her care has been relegated to my mother, her oldest grandchild, and the decision making to me. But as I lived with her during my teenage years, she and I have a deep bond. I am to share equally in her meager estate with her three grown children. They don't know what to do, so the decision has come to me - the one who knows her in some ways better than all of them. The one with the most education, and thus the most responsibility.

I cried last night softly onto Michael's chest, and he stroked my hair, and said that perhaps this is what's best. It's not fair to my mother to continue this way. It's not safe for Granny to be alone anymore. She's a danger to herself, and to others. My mother can't work because if she leaves the house for even five minutes - Granny freaks out and starts calling the police, convinced that my mother is dead in a ditch.

Her mind is forsaking her. But her body is too. Her arms and legs jerk wildly, flailing out at people around her.

The one thing that she feared worse than death, the one thing that she begged me not to do - I have no choice but to do. I will be breaking my promise to her.

I feel as if I am an executioner, signing her death warrant.

My heart is utterly breaking.

21 Comments:

At 2:02 PM, Anonymous donna said...

I am so sorry that you have to go through this. I can't even imagine what you or Granny are going through.

I will say that my own grandmother was reluctant to go to a nursing home, but after a few weeks she is very much at home and happy there. Hopefully Granny will adjust well too.

 
At 2:07 PM, Anonymous Wavery said...

Just two weeks ago we put my grandma in an assisted living center. The doctors ended up helping us out a lot when they insisted upon it. And just like Donna, she is settling in nicely, she even sounds more chipper than she has in years. She's clean, well fed, and medicated as she needs it. Doesn't make it any easier though. I wish you the best.

 
At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Jenn said...

I'm so so sorry April. As a nurse, I think you really are making the best decision for her. The one where she will be the safest and cared for the best. The only other option I can even see is around the clock private duty nursing, which is difficult at best to obtain. *hugs*

 
At 2:38 PM, Blogger Cricket said...

My grandmother was failing much like yours. Two years ago, my mother, who had been unofficially living with her for almost a year, put her in a home. She has never adjusted to it, always asking when she'd be going home. She is utterly dependant on my mother coming by there daily - even the doctors have told my mother to give herself a break, but my grandmother (a tiny thing) gets very agitated without the visits. G'ma has to be there, as she is a threat to herself, but it is so hard catching her in a lucid moment, when she questions the circumstances. The crazed version is almost easier to take.

 
At 3:11 PM, Blogger DD said...

As heart-breaking you know the decision is to make, you have the key to why you must seek professional help for Granny: she is a danger to herself and others. I'm sure you have also spoke to her PCP about this as well, and if you haven't I strongly urge you to seek his/her council.

Alzheimer's is a horrible disease that can weaken more than just the person afflicted; it eats at the entire community of friends and family.

Yes, you made a promise and it doesn't matter one bit that she probably will not remember that. It's YOU who will remember it and hopefully you your some of your guilt will be assauged by knowing that you have to get Granny the help she desperately needs.

 
At 3:12 PM, Blogger Shinny said...

After reading your post, it reminds me so much of what my mom and uncle promised my grandfather, no nursing home. After his stroke and when he was in a coma just 6 weeks ago now they did move him to a nursing home simply because no one in the family was trained to care for him and it was more of extended hospital care that he was receiving. They did bring him home 3 weeks ago and he passed away 2 days later. The only good thing of that whole situation is that my mom's guilt of breaking her promise was lessened.
I personally don't think that it is fair of your family to be making you do the deciding, especially since your mother and any of her siblings should be the ones making this decision.
One way to lessen your guilt on the subject is to remember that this is for the best for her. She will be cared for by professionals, which your mother already said she can't handle any longer and she will be safe, safer, from harming herself or wandering off and having something happen to her.
I know this must be so hard to do and with you being so close to her it just makes it that much harder.
You never know, she may like it. Since the time she made you make that promise assisted living facilities are much nicer then a nursing home used to be.
Know that you have all your friends here in Blogland to lean on when you feel the need. Good luck and remember that it is going to be better for her to be properly cared for.

 
At 3:54 PM, Blogger PortLairge said...

Oh April
You poor thing to have to go through this. Really though it will be the best thing for her. She will be cared for properly by people who know how to handle her and the family can visit often. Your Mother has to think of her own health and well being which os being jeprodized by the current situation. She is going herself or your Grandmother no favors by continuing on like this. Also remeber that when you dread doing something, it often ends up not being as bad as you thought. Good luck with everything.

 
At 4:34 PM, Blogger Mrs. T said...

So sorry to hear you are having to go through this on top of everything else. It must be horrible. I know you love Granny so much, but sometimes you have to do what you think is best. I'm sure if she were in your shoes she really would understand and agree with you. I think you are doing the right thing even though I can only imagine how hard it is. Thinking of you as always!

 
At 4:38 PM, Anonymous Orodemniades said...

I'm sorry, sweetie. I can't imagine being in that situation. What Shanna said was absolutely right on.

 
At 5:54 PM, Blogger chris said...

I'm so sorry. I don't know if this makes sense, but whatever decision you make will be the right one. In her heart, she would agree.

 
At 6:23 PM, Anonymous Lori said...

It is a dreadfully heartbreaking situation. I'm sorry you're left making the final call on what to do. It's lousy that you are carrying the weight of this. You are making the best decision you can to keep her well cared for and safe. As for the promise you made to the contrary - maybe it wasn't a fair promise to be asked to make.
*hugs*

 
At 9:05 PM, Anonymous Leggy said...

Oh April, I'm sorry.

My Nana had Alzheimer's and my uncle tried to care for her at home, but he just couldn't do it once she started doing things like walking aimlessly through the neighborhood, lighting the stove and forgetting about it, and hitting/being verbally abusive.

You have no choice- she's a danger to herself and to others.

But it doesn't make it any less heartbreaking.

 
At 12:08 AM, Blogger Beth said...

April, your post brought me to tears, because it struck home with me. As a late in life child, my grandparents were considerably older than those of my peers (my mother was also a late in life child). I have been where you are and I know how hard this is. Please let me know if I can do anything for you. I will say, that as hard as the decision is, you are truly protecting your Granny from accidental harm. I could feel your deep love for her as you described her - you made me smile with the description of her signing checks simply as "Granny". Wishing you the very best.

 
At 1:23 AM, Blogger Kim said...

I am so sorry you're having to make these decisions, but please don't feel like you're breaking your promise. You made that promise when she was a different woman, when you both knew that it wouldn't be the best place for her to be. Now, it's the safest place for her to be. Do you think perhaps that the Granny you used to live with, would understand that the older Granny she's become, really does need this? In a home she can be cared for and she might get better with time and the right medical care.

 
At 1:56 AM, Blogger Twisted Ovaries said...

I'm so sorry as well, April. This is the hardest thing to go through, when those you have known to be rocks all their lives reach the stage of frailty.

I think we all know someone like that-mine was one of my great-grandmothers who finally developed Alzheimers, and had to be put in a home. The guilt is terrible at the choice, but the truth is her quality of life did go up.

One of my family members also lives with my grandmother, who isn't senile but has terrible health and is just as verbally compbative as you describe. I think this family member has lost years off her life by taking on the role of caregiver.

I am sorry for where you are, sweetie-I know you made a promise. I know you feel bound by that promise. I am sure you are weighing up what is best for your Granny, and that will guide your decision.

If you need to talk, I'm around.

 
At 11:41 AM, Anonymous thalia said...

So sorry that you are having to deal with this. This may be really dumb but could her estate pay for full time care in her own home? That's what we did with my grandmother who had alzheimers. It is of course ve expensive so I'm thinking maybe it's not an option.

You are doing the right thing in putting your grandmother's quality of care first.

 
At 12:36 PM, Blogger Just another Jenny said...

Your post brought tears to my eyes. My mother is living with her mom right now for the same reason - at 88yrs old, she can't live alone anymore.

I think that when parents say "this hurts me more than it hurts you", this is the kind of thing they are referring to. You have to do something very painful for the person you love.
I wish peace for both you and Granny.

 
At 7:44 PM, Blogger deanna said...

oh, sweetie......I truly, truly know how hard this was for you. Thankfully, my mother was able to come to this same decision along with me, but that didn't seem to make it much easier to do. It's so difficult, but try to remind yourself that not doing so jeopardizes everyone's health and happiness. I'm sure that's little consolation right now, but you really did do the best thing.

 
At 11:29 AM, Anonymous pixi said...

I'm so sorry that you're having to make such a heart-wrenching decision. I can't imagine how hard it must be. I just can't. My heart goes out to you, your mom, and your Granny.

 
At 7:06 PM, Anonymous Mary Scarlet said...

April, I'm sorry you're facing this choice in your life. My mother and her brother and sister also had to face this choice with their mother, and even with all the resources and will in the world, the home was still the best and safest place for my grandmother. Even if your family weren't in disarray, you very well might be making the same decision. I understand how hard it is to make a choice you desperately did not want to make.

 
At 7:12 PM, Blogger moo said...

April - I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I cried when I read your post - I feel your anguish. Thinking of you. Moo

 

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