As you know, I went to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving to spend time with my mom’s family. It’s been a while since I saw most of them, since living in Washington state didn’t allow me to visit very often.
But of course, they all welcomed me with open arms. And a wonderful time was had by all.
(My mom in the middle, surrounded by her lovely parents.)
I’ve mentioned before my grandpa’s deteriorating mental condition. I overheard my uncle during Thanksgiving dinner say something about my grandpa no longer being allowed to drive, per the doctor’s orders. I know that’s extremely frustrating for my grandpa. He’s always been the one to drive, and now he can’t even go to the corner store.
I really noticed something was wrong when we were there. My grandpa, a college professor and possessor of a PhD in history, really had nothing to say the whole weekend long. We would be having an animated conversation about something, but Grandpa just sat there with a vacant look on his face. He couldn’t follow the conversation, so he just tuned out.
When we went out to dinner at Pizza Hut, my grandma ordered for him, even down to his drink. And when I inadvertently offered root beer instead of Pepsi as an option, he got really confused, so my grandma made the final decision. And again, the conversation swirled around him, but never drew him in.
There were a couple of instances where we saw a glimmer of the old Grandpa shining through. One night, we heard a rustling in the kitchen around the time we were all headed to bed. We went to peek into the kitchen, and there stood Grandpa, in his robe and slippers, in front of the open freezer. In one hand was a spoon, in the other, an open container of ice cream.
My grandpa’s love of ice cream is legendary in our family. He’s been known to come to a visit, ask whether there is ice cream in the house, and make a trip to the nearest grocery store if there is none to be found. My mom has inherited his love of ice cream; there is always at least a half-gallon in the freezer at all times. Most of the time there is more than one, as Mom is fond of different flavors. That’s where I learned that a serving of ice cream is one huge cereal-bowl full — probably at least 500 calories’ worth. Is it any wonder I was a chubby kid?
But in general, over this last holiday weekend, I noticed Grandpa to be quiet and confused. And it’s such a hard thing to see, especially since my grandma shows none of the same symptoms. And making sure Grandpa is okay and not getting into anything is such a hardship on her.
My grandparents are snowbirds, meaning they spend the winters in the South every year. They have a trailer in Florida, and they’re surrounded by family down there as well. But Grandma thinks this is probably the last year they will be able to make the trek south. These last few years, my grandparents have either flown or taken the train to Florida, since my grandpa can no longer drive. They do drive to my parents’ home in DC, which is only a three hours’ drive, and then my parents drive their car down to Florida for them.
My mom told me that this year, once Grandpa got to DC, he was confused as to whether they were going south for the winter or coming back to the north for the summer. And on the train, Grandpa got obsessed with the train tickets. Grandma didn’t dare give them to him, as she wasn’t sure he wouldn’t lose them, but he kept going on about them. He also made the comment that he’s sure there’s a line of widowers waiting for him to kick the bucket so they can be with Grandma, which of course is ridiculous. But Grandpa is insistent that Grandma is looking for his replacement already.
In a way, I am glad that they probably won’t be going to Florida anymore. I feel badly for Grandma because she feels the cold so intensely (she’s 80 now), and also for my aunt and uncle and cousins who live in Florida and won’t be able to see them as often if they stay in Pennsylvania.
But my grandparents made the wise move almost fifteen years ago to move into a retirement community in Pennsylvania. They had seen my grandmother’s parents decline in their mid-90s, where my great-grandpa got too sick to stay home and was moved to a nursing home. But Great-Grandma wasn’t sick enough to go with him, so she was moved to a nursing home across town. It was the first time in 70+ years they had been apart. Great-Grandma’s health went quickly, so she was eventually moved to Great-Grandpa’s nursing home. But Great-Grandpa died after a while, and Great-Grandma followed a week later, though there wasn’t really anything wrong with her. She just didn’t want to live without her husband.
My grandparents didn’t want the same to happen to them. They bought into a retirement community with various levels of living. For the last fourteen years, they’ve been living in a duplex, completely independent and on their own, but with the availability of the common areas and dining hall open to them. But they have the option of moving into an apartment, where they would receive more care if needed, and then once they get really frail, they would be moved into the nursing home on site. That way, it’s all set up, and my mom and her siblings are spared from making hard decisions.
They don’t have the same arrangements in place in Florida, so in a way, I am glad they will have to stay in Pennsylvania from here on out. Also I am selfishly glad, as I will be able to go down there and see them (and hopefully give Grandma a bit of a break from Grandpa) as often as possible since it’s only an eight-hour drive.
But it still sucks to see Grandpa deteriorating like this. And I dread the phone call coming this winter, the one making my grandma a widow.
I just can’t fathom it. But I know it’s coming. It comes for all of us, sooner or later.