Friday, February 8, 2013


My grandmother has dementia/Alzheimer's - whatever the name, it's evident that the synapses comprising her memory are eroding. She hasn't known who I am for a good six years or more. She doesn't know that she's divorced or that her mother is dead. I often feel terribly saddened by how scary and lonely it must be for her.

Her daughter, my Aunt, is responsible for her (Gram always said she had power of attorney).  Said Aunt has been toiling about moving Gram in with her.  While that would be better than Gram living all alone, it's not enough.  I've been mentally drafting an email to my Aunt, for quite some time, filled with information and anecdotes that might convince my Aunt to let Gram go to a nursing home. Cowardice and busyness (selfishness? fear?) have thwarted my willingness/ability to send the fucking email. 

The email never sent. Its thesis is that gram needs more than help with meds and food; she needs 24/7 care and security. The two anecdotes that have frightened me most, that I wanted to employ to compel my Aunt to consider the nursing home arrangement, are as follows:
  1. She could wander off, get lost, and who in the fuck would know? Would we ever find her? Would she survive? And what terror would she experience when she couldn't find her way home, couldn't remember who she is or a phone number to call? Or would she even gain lucidity long enough to realize?
  2. Even under the supervision of my Aunt, Gram could wander out in the night, in the dead of winter, without anyone knowing. Assert questions from anecdote #1, not to mention other gruesome possibilities.
Alas, I have done nothing, neither has anyone else in my family (in terms of putting her in a care facility), and Gram has remained alone - sitting there day after day to rot on her own. That's how I envision her - rotting. Gray matter drying out and crumbling, slowly, a little more each day. Same with her skin. Piles of dusty flesh filling up her house. Her alone, out of her mind, swimming in it, smiling.

Fast forward to a few days ago (February 4th), when my other Aunt found her - anecdote #2 had played out in some fashion. Gram was outside in the snow, wearing pantyhose, sandals and a shirt. How's that for pitiful, frightening, negligent, and overall sad? Oh, and how about her dignity? Picture the word dignity in 3D block letters, floating downward from the ceiling, disintegrating slowly before ever reaching the floor, joining the flakes of flesh and gray matter. I picture her laying in the snow, for how long I'm not sure. Was she scared? Was she crying?  Was she screaming or laughing? Was she making snow angels?  Or was she just standing there or walking around, out of her gourd, oblivious to the cells in her feet succumbing to the icy cold?

How does a woman who gave so much end up alone, sinuously bat-shit-crazy-out-of-her brain, to end up outside, partially naked on a snowy winter's day?  A woman who gave herself to the church, who gave her money to the church, who gave her pizza to the mouths of kids and families who were hungry without ever expecting a dime? How's that for payback? I know justice is a delusion; a silly figment of a concept dreamed up to offer security where none is attainable, and yet injustice pisses me off nonetheless. 

Where was her fucking savior, God, when she needed him? Oh, this was God's will, right? Sick fucking bastard.

We're all just bits of hydrogen and carbon anyway - we are fated to decay - the only fate I subscribe to.  Seems sort of twisted that nature or God enabled the evolution of emotions - our enemy against peacefully accepting our fate and the fate of those we love. Instead that fate sticks in my gut, like the glass shards used to murder Murano glass blowers if they should decide to leave their profession.

Responsibility is ubiquitous when it comes to those we love. Was it my Aunt's decision whether or not to leave her alone, move her in, or find a care facility for her? My Gram has 4 children, all with spouses. How could we grandchildren have any say? I felt I'd be overstepping my bounds - my Aunt and her siblings were obviously grieving and scared of their mother's condition; perhaps deluded and selfish, also ignorant of the severity and progression of her disease. Could logic have done anything to help that? How can one help to educate another who isn't mentally prepared to learn? 

All of this makes me think of our nation - of federal/state control and how it disconnects individuals from their communities, castrating them of their worth and willingness to take responsibility. Responsibility is easy to see and define on paper. It can be easy to submit to the responsible one (an Aunt, her siblings). But, if someone knows something to be true, is that person not responsible regardless of rank and order?  Is it really so convoluted and complex, or am I expecting too much of individuals, of myself and others? I draw a parallel to the Sandusky mess at Penn State - diffused responsibility, or whatever it's called. In a group (institution, family, random group on the street), a given individual thinks someone else will take care of "it." Or, the responsible person will, or that the chain of command will work. Or at best, there is more time for the decision to be made.

Regardless of responsibility, my grandmother was hospitalized, then transferred to a burn unit at West Penn in Pittsburgh. She's now at "other Aunt's" home, being cared for by family and a nurse who visits daily. Her frost-bitten feet will heal, eventually. The broken bones in her fingers will fuse back together. According to one cousin, Gram doesn't seem to recollect anything of the incident or her hospitalization, and seems oblivious (mostly) to her injuries. I suppose this is the only redeeming aspect of her degenerative disease, that she doesn't remember the terrible and crazy shit that's happened/happening to her.  

ETA: I live 400+ miles away - distance and perspective separate me from those who have spent time with her daily or weekly over the past years -distance and perspective leave me feeling worthless and guilty.