Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Visiting Grandpa

I went to visit my grandpa Monday evening, the first evening of his admission into the nursing home. I have to admit that I procrastinated as long as I reasonably could, afraid of what I would find, nervous that I would be alone. I had originally planned to bring the whole family, but Shawn and I decided that if Grandpa was really out of sorts that it would not be good for the kids to be there. Mom, Grandma, my aunt, and my uncle had left just before lunch, and I got there around 5:00 that evening. I'm not sure what he did in the intervening hours, but I think he may have been looking for a way home. An orderly escorted me to Grandpa's wing and told me that he had been wondering when someone would come to see him. When I got to him he had his hat and jacket on, ready to leave. He was standing at the nurses' station, holding his drivers license in his hand trying to get someone to help him go home.

He was not agitated, but he was upset, confused, and disoriented. He didn't recognize me. This was the first time that he didn't know who I am. He seemed to think that I was someone who worked at the facility, and that I would be able to take him home. He kept telling me over and over that he needed to get home and he appreciated that I was taking the time to listen to him. I had to slowly redirect him. I got him to talk about his time in the Navy, his father, his uncle, and I read Psalm 23 to him. Through the course of the conversation he started to calm down. We talked about who I am, and how I am related to him. Then they brought in his dinner tray. Before he started eating I got him to take off his hat and jacket, but he never seemed to resign himself to the idea that the bed on which he sat was now his.

I read Psalm 119 to him while he ate. Several times he would stop eating to listen. He seemed to be deeply moved by the passages. He asked me to repeat a few of them. He told me several times that there was something so special about God's Word, that it moved him in a way no other book could. I got him to tell me about the time he gave his heart to Christ. One thing I forgot to mention the other day is that my grandfather is long-winded. :) But honestly, I had forgotten about that particular trait. He has remained mostly silent when we've been together for so long that I forgot how much he can talk about one topic. (Or should I say preach?) In the past it really didn't take much to get him rolling. There was a running joke in my family that the food would be cold by the time Grandpa got done saying the blessing. I remember squirming through many blessings, waiting for Grandpa to finish so I could eat. The other night he seemed to be exceptionally long-winded. He kept repeating the same thing over and over, forgetting what he had just told me. It was good to hear him talk for so long about something again. A trait that for years had been an annoyance has become a blessing.

He never did fully recognize me. He understood who I was, but that understanding seemed to be only on an intellectual level. Yet I was still very blessed by the visit that I had dreaded. It was very upsetting to see how he was when I first got there, and there were several times I had to choke down the tears, but by the end of the visit I was so thankful for the priceless time we'd had. The Holy Spirit was in that room, and the three of us had a wonderful time together. Before I left I asked him if I could pray with him. He said he would love it if I prayed with him. I prayed for his peace of mind as he transitioned into his new home, yet in my heart I was still rebelling against the thought of him staying there one night, let alone many. He just doesn't seem to belong there. That is not his home. The people there are not his family. But I know that as hard as it is, it is for everyone's best.

I may have been wrong when I said that the future meant spending less and less time with him. It may actually mean spending more and more time with him. I'd like to try to see him once a week and read the Word to him. I probably would have never taken the time to do that if he were still at  home. The relationship we have now is different, but in many ways it could become deeper, richer. As I was getting ready to leave he told me that he would keep me right in there as he pointed to his head. He said he would think about me all week. I hope he can.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Grandpa's Moving Day

Today is a tough day for my family, and we would really appreciate your prayers. On one side of the family my father-in-law is having knee replacement surgery today. On my side of the family, my grandfather is being put into a nursing home. It is my grandfather that I want to talk about today.

My grandfather has Alzheimer's/dementia. We have watched him deteriorate for several years now. It's like watching someone die, one memory, one character trait at a time. Before the onset of dementia, my grandfather was a strong, opinionated, stubborn, witty, funny man. He had, and still has, a strong faith that runs deep and influenced every choice he ever made. He isn't overly affectionate, but you know he loves you by the way his eyes light up when he sees you. From my memories, his great delight was his grandchildren, of which I was the first. He loved taking us for rides on the tractor, showing us the cows, or telling us stories of the gigantic snake that carved out the road the farm was on. My favorite part of that story was when the snake stopped by his house for a drink of water. He told us that story over and over again. Now when we get together as a family he mostly keeps to himself and stays quiet. Still at times he has amazing moments of clarity. At the last family reunion he told us about a rooster they once had that figured out how to jump up and knock food out of the bird feeder. He said, "That rooster was doing exactly what God designed it to do. He was taking care of his hens." I've been fortunate to have him only an hour's drive away most of my life so I've had many wonderful times with him.

The house he lived in was the house he grew up in. That house was as much a member of his family as my mother and grandmother. It was his constant worry and love. Not long after the onset of dementia he became extremely paranoid about the house -- that it would burn down or someone would break into it. He is leaving it today. Most likely he will never live there again.

Of course, the greatest love of his life, other than Christ, is my grandmother. He was a hard man to live with, even before he became demented, but she faithfully loved him through the years. She is more intimately acquainted with his deterioration than any of the rest of us. She has had to put up with all the daily difficulties of his disease, and she has done so with dignity and grace. Her devotion to him has been flawless. She is my hero. I cannot imagine being in her shoes, watching the love of you life diminish in that way, the man you invested your life in slowly dying. Her kids have given her several opportunities to take some time away from grandpa. I can only imagine the mixed emotions she must feel in those times - relief to be away, guilt for feeling that way, anxiety for his well-being when she is not with him. And his devotion to her is just as binding. She is his security, his comfort. One weekend recently they were staying with my parents. The aggressive tendencies brought on by the disease had gotten to the point that my mom and her siblings were no longer comfortable with the idea of grandma being alone with him for more than a few hours, especially at night when he is most restless. My dad and grandfather were sitting in the living room and my mother and grandmother were in the dining room. Had he known where to look he would have been able to see her through the doorway from where he was sitting. He asked my dad where she was, and dad said she is right over there. He then said, "I don't want to live if I have to live without Carol." My grandmother has said that she would rather the Lord take grandpa on to heaven than to have to put him in a home. Today they will be parted. She will be with him as often as she can, of course, but they will most likely never be together in the same way again.

My mom and her brother and sister have done what they can to help grandma and grandpa through this time. They have supported them as much as they can and helped figure out the details of his care. I know that today is a very difficult day for my mom and I'm sure it is for her brother and sister as well. They are all going to the home with grandma and grandpa to help with his transition, though I'm sure none of them want to be there. I can't imagine the turmoil of watching one of your parents disintegrate in this way. I think the hardest thing of this for my mom has been seeing his mental deterioration while his body continues to be strong and healthy. Unfortunately this fact has made the need to put him into a long-term care facility inevitable. His body refuses to quit, even at the age of 86, but his mind has not withstood the passage of time so well. It has now gotten to the point that his needs are beyond my family's abilities to care for. So the fateful day has now arrived. The future means spending less and less time with him, and going to visit him in the nursing home with the noxious smells, and unnerving sights and sounds. I have many memories of visiting great grandparents in nursing homes, few of them pleasant.

I wish we could have grandpa back, the way he was five or ten years ago. I wish his mind had stayed as keen and strong as his body. I wish he could have died with dignity at home. But that simply isn't the reality. I cry and I grieve. I will move on. This Thanksgiving I am so thankful for the times I have had with my grandpa, even the difficult ones. I'm grateful for the investment he has made in my life. I'm grateful for the legacy of faith, love, and perseverance that he has passed on. I hope my life can be a tribute to his legacy.