Slipping Away

My mom has told me, at great length, the exact same story about her mom’s getting lost at the grocery store–the grocery store she drives herself to for her preferred chocolate–and my aunt’s wanting to either get her a live-in nurse or put her in a home and my other aunt’s belief that my grandmother can decide for herself.

There’s a certain amount of humor, dark humor, in listening to someone terrified her mother has lost her mind telling you that in almost the exact same words twice not four days apart. But I listened and nodded and supported my mom in the same way twice, because I don’t think my mom is losing her mind. I think she’s having to realize something very terrible–that, here, at the end of her mom’s long life, she and her sisters are going to have to do something to/with her that she’s going to hate so much there might not be any coming back from it. She does not want to go into a home. She does not want a nurse. Her house flooded earlier this summer and it’s been a nightmare of that and, for some reason, moths, and my mom and one aunt had to fight her to get the basement cleaned up and she won’t do the things she needs to do to stop the moth infestation even though the bug guy told her that there’s only so much he can do if she won’t make some fundamental changes. She won’t do the physical therapy she’s supposed to be doing. She’s got a urinary tract infection. She won’t treat it.

I also think she’s depressed. No, the big D. I think she has Depression. Which, who the fuck wouldn’t, if you’re in your mid-90s and you know you’re losing your mind? But she denies that to her doctor as well.

If you’ve read along here for any length of time, you know that my family is not good at… I don’t know quite how to get at it… If something bad is happening to you, I think we have a tendency to blame you for it and to assume that the way to help you is to let you help yourself or ask for help. You tell us what to do and we’ll maybe do it, but, if you can’t ask or you don’t know, tough shit, we’re mad at you for making us uncomfortable.

That’s not entirely fair. We have a lot of good qualities on top of that. But I’m just trying to make clear that my grandma needs my family to do something they are really not in practice of doing. She needs them to see that she can’t make decisions for herself anymore and she needs them to act.

I have not, since I was a small child, experienced them as people who can act in someone’s best interest without being asked for help. And yet, I think my mom is trying to come to grips with the fact that she can’t ask, that she won’t ask.

My mom and dad are being called upon to finally do what they have never done, what they have always failed to do. I’m frightened for them. I hope they don’t fail her.

And my poor grandma.


7 thoughts on “Slipping Away

  1. My mom was a lot like your grandmom. Totally unable to (after a lifetime of fighting, I don’t really blame her) muster up strength and keep fighting and caring. I still don’t know if I’m angry at her or glad she turned her back on all the cheerful talk and said “fuck you, I’m done.” Not glad, I guess, but respectful, maybe. She chose, and told us she was choosing, to give up and accept dying. Who was I to tell her not to? But I also know she was depressed, and if she hadn’t been, she might have wanted to fight. But her depression was decades in the making, never really treated, and I’m not sure it was something she could have taken on in her weakened state. There was no clear right thing to do. And we couldn’t *make* her want to do anything. Ugh, I’m sorry. It’s just hard. The worst part, selfishly, is that I worry about having as hard a go when it’s my time, and I really want a better death, a better end, and I’m so sorry she didn’t get the one she deserved. And I’m afraid that no matter what I do, it will be just as terrible. I think that’s what makes it so hard for lots of people, not just the suffering in front of you, but the suffering that you are afraid is coming for you too and there’s no way to avoid it.

  2. Urinary tract infections in the elderly can cause dementia like symptoms. This really made my grandfathers’ issues with beginning dementia even worse.

    I’m so sorry Aunt B. Hopefully your grandmother has a good doctor? That can really help, especially when there is conflict with family. Both sides of mine have gone through this issue. It should come with free therapy for everyone involved.

  3. While there are nursing homes that are hell-holes, there are also those (and not necessarily the most expensive ones, either) that can deal with your grandmother’s dementia, and give her comfortable surroundings for her last years. This is one of the positive effects of an aging population: there are a lot more decent options out there than there used to be. I had to find a decent nursing home for my uncle 20 years ago, and it was remarkably difficult to find a place that wasn’t just parking old folks until they died from neglect. (Difficult, but possible, even on Medicaid.) Things have changed a lot since then, and there is much better elder care available, including much improved understanding of how to care for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Maybe if your mother and her siblings understood this, it would be a little easier for them to get active about this–they aren’t being asked to force your grandmother into a warehouse.

  4. My mom seems really pleased with the nursing homes they’ve looked at. I think the problem is kind of two-fold. My grandma absolutely does not want to do anything but sit in her house surrounded by her stuff until she dies, but she won’t say that in so many words. She doesn’t want to move. She doesn’t want a nurse to come in. She wants nothing to change until she dies, which she hopes is soon.

    Her doctors are good, but they’re all like typical doctors these days in that they seem to think that the goal is to get the patient as close to escaping death as possible. So, every time my grandma goes into the doctor, he reassures her that she’s probably got ten more years–which would put her at 104 when she dies. And that makes her incredibly unhappy and he doesn’t understand.

    But I’ve now watched both of my grandmothers be in perfectly fine health, unable to die, and it’s fucking miserable. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

    So, problem one: my grandma wants to stay in the house just as she is until she dies.

    Problem two: my mom and her one sister don’t want to make her unhappy at the end of her life, but there’s just no solution that would make her happy. She has to do things to take care of herself and, if she refuses, then someone else has to do it. And my other aunt is not really ready to admit how bad things are.

    So, it’s tough. They don’t want to upset her, but there’s no safe option that doesn’t upset her.

  5. If your grandmother’s doctors don’t pay attention to her state of mind, they are not good doctors.

  6. They know she’s depressed. They’ve offered to prescribe her medication. They’ve recommended she go into a home. I don’t think it’s surprising that a doctor doesn’t say “Don’t worry. You’re going to die soon.”

  7. The urinary tract infection is serious business in the elderly. My Granny passed away a year and a half ago. She was 94 and healthy and got a kidney infection. Then pneumonia. Then it was downhill from there.

    Also, my mom has worked in nursing homes for 30 years. Yes, there are bad ones. But there are also a lot of good ones. The good ones don’t make headlines to generate fear and drive ratings.

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