Nine years ago I was 20. I had just met the man of my dreams - 374. We were planning on moving 3/4 of the way across the country to start our life together. I had a year and a half of college under my belt, a good job and a great family. It seemed like everything was falling into place.
It was late spring/early summer of 2003. We were living in Washington State. My maternal grandmother was coming out for a visit. If I had to pick the person that I was closest to in life up until that point it was her. I would call her on my lunch breaks at work just to chat. A day didn't go by without at least one phone call to Grandma. However, this visit with Grandma would be the start to a new relationship with her. Things weren't going to ever be the same. Grandma, who was at the time in her mid 50's, had just been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's.
At first I had no idea what this meant. The only experience I had with Alzheimer's was an episode of a soap opera my mom watched where a character had the disease. He was at a family function and didn't know anyone there. All I knew was that Grandma wasn't going to know me anymore. Whether this would happen fast, or over an extended period of time I didn't know. I knew nothing except that I was losing my Grandma and I wasn't prepared. My Grandma had my mom young, and my mom had me young. At 20, the thought of something happening to my Grandma never crossed my mind. Knowing she was a younger grandma, I had always envisioned her spoiling my kids and them having many years with her to enjoy as I did. Now, that was not the picture I had for my future, our family's future.
Grandma's Alzheimer's set in quickly. That fall 374 and I carried on with our plans to move. Our intentions were to start our life in Pennsylvania, but instead we drove across country and moved in with my grandparents. Grandpa continued to work as a truck driver to pay her medical bills and keep insurance. I worked part time, as did 374, and the rest of the time we helped care for Grandma while Grandpa was on the road. By the time we had moved in with them, she was not allowed to drive anymore or cook unattended. She needed reminders for small things, but for the most part could care for herself.
A year and a half later, Grandma had went downhill. In the spring of 2005 we had to make the painful decision to put her in a nursing home. At this point, Bubby was a month shy of a year old. Grandpa had spent a month in the hospital due to heart issues that prevented him from ever returning to work. There was no way we could care for her any more at home. She was unable to walk, let alone talk, feed herself or perform any daily tasks to care for herself. She needed 24/7 care that we just could not provide.
If there was one good thing that came of the situation, it was that we got pregnant with Bubby when we did. We had not intended on having children for another few years, however someone else had another plan for us. Grandma was still somewhat lucid when I became pregnant, but as my pregnancy progressed I think she saw me more as my mother when she was pregnant with me. After giving birth, grandma was able to hold Bubby and ooh and ahh over him. As the months passed in his first year, her reality and our reality became farther apart. It eases my heart that at some point she knew she had a great grandchild, and she enjoyed him for a short time.
I've really been struggling with this a lot lately. My Grandma was such a big part of my life, and I had always assumed it would be the same for my children. Now that we have both Bubby and Sassy, it weighs on my heart a lot. They ask questions about her quite often in the last year. Sometimes they ask to go see her at the nursing home - which usually is a quick visit because they are nervous and uncomfortable there. They don't understand why she can't interact with us like a healthy person would.
Things were set off again for me about a week ago when Bubby and I were having a conversation while making sugar cookies. "Mom, how do you know how to make these cookies?" he asked. I told him that they were Grandma's recipe. Which prompted another conversation about Grandma and her disease. I could tell he was tearing up talking about her. It always amazes me the connection that both my children feel to someone they really don't even know. Then the question that opened my flood gates poured from his mouth - "Mommy, why can't we just take Grandma to the hospital. Hospitals fix people. Why can't they just fix Grandma's brain?" My sweet, sweet boy if you only knew how many times I wished that were the case. If you only knew how many tears I shed wishing it were just that easy. I looked at 374 with pleading eyes. I couldn't answer Bubby, so he did. He explained that sometimes people have issues that just can't be fixed. It was in that moment when I saw a little loss of innocence in Bubby's eyes.
I haven't been able to shake this exchange from my memory since it's happened. My days since have been spent with a heavy heart. I miss her. I miss her a lot. I can go visit her, sure, but it's not Grandma. I've always tried to push it from my mind. I've really not dealt with the grief over losing her spirit. Her body is still here, but it's like she's not there anymore. Now that the kids are asking more questions, it seems it's time for me to start dealing with the situation, and I'm just not sure I'm ready.