My grandma took care of me as a baby. I have always had my differences with her as I grew into adulthood, but she was, next to my mom, one of the first few people to show me what love looks like.
These last 5 years haven’t been easy for her. She earns her personal identity by taking care of those around her, whether that is her own kids or her grandkids. As she grows older, and her leukemia begins to age her quicker, she is losing sense of who she once was.
There was a day where I sat on her bed with her. She was unable to speak that day, but her eyes told me she was cognizant of what was happening to her. She could tell me everything through that look. I don’t think I’ve ever broken down and cried in front of her — that day was a first.
Here is what I have learned, watching a woman I love and cherish slowly disappear.
My grandma’s identity is tied to her ability to make food for the family and provide shelter. She was born to a family that escaped genocide. She can hardly walk now and do the things she has done her whole life. She looks defeated these days and often tells me she’s ready to depart. It breaks my heart to hear, but I also don’t know what it feels like to be in her position or feel what she’s feeling.
To want to call.
My grandma doesn’t like calling me to get my attention. She expects me to be at her house as frequently as possible. If I’m not there, she interrogates me as to what I have been doing.
These days, she fatigues so quickly that if she walks farther than a few feet away from her bed she becomes winded and wants to sleep. However, with the phone next to her at all times, she waits for a phone call from me. She doesn’t want to be pestering me, she just wants me to call and come over.
I’m not sure how many times my grandma has been to the hospital these last 5 years. When she stays there too long, she starts to sundown. Sundowning refers to an instance with Alzheimer’s (hers is very mild and very early) where you get confused and anxious and fatigue as the day approaches the later hours. When we take her to the hospital, the sundowning begins to grow far more visible and her anxiety soars through the roof.
Recently, with the coronavirus, hospitals don’t allow anybody in with the patients. This has proven extremely difficult, as my grandma grows irritable and confused far quicker and sometimes stays in the hospital thinking we have left her there for good.
With her age and the current policy, the hospital does more harm than it does good.
They don’t want to be taken care of.
My grandma hates watching me do things for her. She is the one that wants to feed me. She wants to cut me fruit. She wants to go to buy me clothes. She wants to drive again. She hates being the person who needs care. It eats away at her and makes her feel useless no matter how much anybody tells her that it’s perfectly okay to relax.
She doesn’t want even want a picture taken. She will often start laughing and cover her face.
To be told that she’s old.
My grandma doesn’t want a walker or a cane or anything to give people a glimpse of her age. Even though she very much looks the part of a grandma, her public image is extremely important to her. She would be grouped with “old people”, which doesn’t include herself. She has trouble celebrating her birthday. If we end up going out, she will tell the waiters that it’s someone else’s birthday so they sing to them instead.