Friday, July 20, 2012

I have a pill stuck in my throat, in that awkward way that happens every once in a while.  I sip from my water and realize I'm holding back tears... it isn't just a pill that's stuck there, but all of my feelings. 

I've just come from yet another late night heart to heart with the woman my grandmother sometimes has become.  This woman is sad: not just sad, but heartbroken, morose, devastated.  She has lost her children, and doesn't know why.  She's alone in a house she doesn't recognize with people who used to be her family and now feel "worse than strangers, because they're SUPPOSED to love me."  Her long-deceased siblings visit her often, but instead of comfort, they taunt her with their silences at the atrocities she's faced: she is sure someone has stolen her two little boys.  Not just stolen them, but given them away, without her having a say so, without so much as an explanation... and it's those supposed loved ones who allowed it - perhaps enabled it - to happen, and she can't forgive them for that. 

As one hour slips into two, we're still at a stalemate: I tell her that those of us who love her are out here in the dark searching for her with flashlights, unable to reach her, but continuously shining the light of our love in her direction, hoping against hope that she feels it, however briefly, and knows that she is safe.  "They aren't searching for me anymore," she responds, "They've all found other people to love, and I guess it's only natural that there would have to be a loser, but I'm not glad it's me."

I would do anything for you, I tell her.  All of us would.  "There is an empty doorbell that says you are lying," she tells me.  "An old TV I can't see that sits in the living room mocking me, stairs that I can't climb yet have no lift like I've asked for repeatedly, and my boys are gone.  All of that shows me more than the words you say." 

I can't argue with the last - the boys are missing, and no matter how I try to word it, to make her understand, it is always our fault that they are gone, if not by active trickery, then at the very least through passively allowing it to occur.  I can't even defend the defensible position - that the television isn't broken, it's her eyes - because she already knows the facts of that, but it doesn't matter.  As to the others, I can't help but agree: there is no reason that my uncle's aversion to the 'mess'' of the stair lift should outweigh her sense of dignity and ability to shower regularly, but it does.  (I know that part of his reluctance is due to his thinking that this is not a permanent state of health for my grandmother, or that the life would be just as dangerous to her as the stairs, but I'm not sure I agree.)  And the silent doorbell (/telephone) is a two sided coin - there are some who are close enough, yet do (in my mind) too little, and some who are too far away to do much.  Then there are others who want to help, but know that too many people - and at times 1 extra person is too many people - amps up her anxiety and backfires instead of helping.  So, it's complicated, but she can't understand that right now.

Right now, all she knows is that it's three o'clock in the morning, and she can't sleep.  Because she's never been "more alone in her life", even though I am sitting right there.  Even though I am always sitting right there. 

If I leave for the afternoon to take a shower, I leave 70-80% of my brain here, spinning about what might happen while I am gone, and who I will find when I come back.  If she's in a good way when I'm leaving, I hate to go because she might not be alert and focused when I return; if she's having a bad day, I hate to leave because sometimes I'm the only one who can get through to her.  When I come home I might find the lady I've always known, who asks me about the people I've seen while I was gone and seems glad to know that the shower helped my neck so much, or I could find the silent starer, who slides little digs in about how "I thought you'd forgotten I'd existed" because I've been AWOL for less than 10 hours. 

Back in college, I was going home every weekend out of sheer exhaustion - it was one of the concessions I might to my chronic illnesses, because the dorm would be too noisy, that I'd go home to sleep and shower every weekend, and come back on Sunday nights.   During my miserable freshman year, the year I was so depressed I nearly dropped out, when my roommate and I could not have been more poorly matched and my classes were overwhelming, and I couldn't figure out how you're supposed to make friends as an adult (still don't get this, btw), somewhere around Sunday afternoon, I would start to get a feeling in the pit of my stomach that would make me slightly nauseous.  It would build during the hours I spent getting ready to go back, and all of the stress I'd washed away in the shower would come crushing back down on me.  That anxiety, that sense of dread, was one of the worst feelings I've ever experienced - it was more than just 'back to work blues', it was utter despair some days - but I would face it and get on with my week, and my work, no matter that all I wanted to do was to give up, tell my mother to turn the car around and go home. 

I feel some of that same anxious dread so often now, and find myself wishing that I could just walk (RUN) away and let things happen as they will, without me.  Why do I have to be here, listening to her heartbreak, while she breaks my heart?  Why do I have to be the one she can spill out all her worries too, when I don't have any of the solutions she's looking for?  Why does no one else see that her feet need to be up, that her hearing aids aren't in, that she's mixed up and you're just confusing her more by giving her all those options?  How can I sit here and be both her "most trusted helper/the best nurse on this ward" and "obviously plotting against me, or at the very least not telling the whole truth"?  Why are all the people I need to support me actively making this harder? 

I just want to disappear, but ... I can't.  At the same time I want to be the person she can depend on, I feel completely undependable, as if I'm trying to be a pillar, but I'm standing on pillows.  I don't feel up to the task, definitely.  All the areas I am most confident in - I can organize these appointments and medications and nurses visits and bath times like crazy, y'all! - feel inadequate, because there's so much that I can't do.  On a good day, I can listen and empathize and search for non-existent prayer cards for three hours, and on a bad day, I find myself thinking that it's a good thing I'm not a parent yet, because this getting up at 3 in the morning to make the first of three breakfasts or balance the checkbook for the 24th time this week is bullshit.  On a good day, we sit on the porch, and even though she's not herself, the pure unedited joy I can read in her face as the cool breeze finally reaches us is more reward than I could ever ask for; on a bad day, I mutter sarcastic answers under my breath to every little dig and jibe she aims at me, even though I know that whispering and sarcasm just antagonize her.  (I do try to keep it under my breath, but really, sometimes you just want to be like: Yes, yes Grandmother, I do want to "end our relationship", which you can obviously see by the way I'm making you yet another cup of tea, because you completely ignored the first two I brewed for you and let them get cold.  That's why I've given up showering more than twice a week during the hottest days of the decade, because I "hate" you so much. Grumble grumble grumble.)

There are no answers to be found here, really: she's not going to magically wake up tomorrow and remember that we've always and only done our best for her because we love her, and I'm not magically going to be able to ignore her little poison darts when they're aimed at my heart.  It's not ok, but it is what is.  It is our reality right now, and I'm going to live through it.  (Now I just have to keep repeating that to myself until I believe it.)

On a more positive note, I can not thank you all enough for your kind words on my previous post (or any of the posts concerning our current situation, for that matter): I think it's obvious that I am having a hard time here, and I hate to be continuously on and on about it, but it's pretty much all I have time to think about right now. I am humbled by and so grateful for all of your supportive comments ~ knowing that so many of you have been through this/similar issues is both tragic and heartening: I am sorry for you and your loved ones, but so glad that I'm not on my own here. Whenever I think about closing down this blog, because, let's face it, I don't utilize it as much as I could/should, and sometimes it's a pain in the ass to even think about posting, I always come back to this: so many of you are here when I need you, when (almost) no one else is. Whenever I think that I am most alone, when I am sure that no one at all will understand a word I am saying, you somehow manage to make me feel as if the things I say matter to you, as if I am part of the 'real world' again. As if all the crazy I am feeling might somehow be a little bit normal. So, thanks for that. (And all of your suggestions: you can be sure I am taking them all to heart.)  A thousand thanks, NTE

1 comment:

The Goldfish said...

"I know that part of his reluctance is due to his thinking that this is not a permanent state of health for my grandmother, or that the life would be just as dangerous to her as the stairs, but I'm not sure I agree."

That reminds me of a comment my Granny recalls being made to my Great Grandmother, who was in her nineties and shopping for a new bed. Some tactless relative actually said to her, "Is it really worth spending money on a new bed at your age?"

Which made me laugh, to be honest, as if my great grandmother might answer, "That's a fair point actually - I might as well save money, buy the coffin now and sleep in that every night!"

Not that there's much hope of winning the argument about the lift, but I agree with you.

Another big ((((hug)))) for you. You will live through this - we know this because you are doing.