I took the kids to see Nana last Thursday. We had some clothes to drop off, and of course an Easter treat for her. It was a morning visit, always the best time, and she looked in good health and humour. I’d brought along a card for Nana to write on, for my sister’s new baby. My sister is thinking of coming up over the break to introduce her little one to his Great Grandmother and I wanted Nana to have something to give them. There’s a picture of my nephew in a frame in Nana’s room, which I’ve labelled with his name, and who he belongs to. I set Nana up with a pen and the card at the table and put the photo in front of her so she could check the spelling of his name. I explained to Nana several times what it was she needed to do.
She started to copy word for word straight from the frame in painfully slow writing. She trailed off as I asked her what she wished for the little one. ‘Oh yes, that will do’ she said, confusion in her eyes. I wrote the message myself and passed it back to Nana to sign, encouraging with ‘just put love from Nana’. I spelt ‘love’ out letter by letter then asked her again to sign ‘Nana’. Nana wrote the first three letters of her first name before looking at it and saying ‘I don’t know what I am writing?’. I spelt out Nana for her, letter by letter, and ten minutes after we started the card was done.
It was so incredibly painful to watch, I wish that I had never thought of it. I certainly won’t be asking anything similar of her again. Oh Nana, my Nana, how I miss you.
A several weeks ago it was my Nana’s 86th birthday. My sister was lucky enough to call early in the morning catching Nana at her best to wish her Happy Birthday. Daughter Number Two and I arrived after lunch and although it was a pleasant enough visit I was still thrown a couple of times.
Punch to the guts number one came shortly after our arrival. Daughter Number Two ran into to Nana’s room, and spying two photo’s of Daughter Number One said excitedly ‘There’s my Sister! There’s my Sister.’ Nana remarked ‘Oh, she knows her does she?’ To which I replied ‘yes’. Nana continued ‘Where is she now?’ As I reeled from the emotional body blow she followed with ‘Did she die?’ in a tone of voice appropriate to enquiring if someone had moved house. Don’t get me wrong, this is far preferrable to me than the complete shock and raw grief that was her reaction last time we had this conversation, but still surreal, as was the lack of her reaction when I responded ‘Yes Nana, she died.’
My second moment of pause came when Nana lifted her shirt, flashed me her bra and said ‘I’ve got a bra on today!’ Thank heavens for that thought I as I struggled for the appropriate response. ‘Yes, you do.’ I managed before she continued, still with her shirt bunched around her neck ‘Of course I couldn’t have worn one if it had been raining.’ As I tried to make sense of Nana’s looking-glass world a nurse came in and said to Nana ‘Oh, you’re not flashing those again are you?’ Again? My Nana has done this before? My Nana ? Oh no.
Lastly after giving Nana her birthday gift, which was a framed portrait of myself and my children, Daughter Number Two was pointing to everyone in the photo and calling them by name. When she said ‘That’s Mummy!’ Nana said ‘You know, when I opened that I thought that was me in the photo.’ Which went a long way to explaining why she gasps in horror and refuses to look at recent photo’s of herself when I bring them to her. She does not recognise her older self.
Sometimes I understand how she feels. As much as I love and care for the Nana I have now I still miss the Nana she used to be.
I had a good visit with my Nana yesterday. There was lots of repetition as usual. Yesterday was Melbourne Cup day here. It is a big horse race that most of the country stops to watch. Nana has the soul of a gambler and has loved going to the races during her life so it was a big day for her. There was lots of Cup talk, activities planned, and the staff were all dressed up for the occasion. Nana also was dressed in a fetching and festive outfit. I admired it when I arrived, and kept doing so, because she was preoccupied with the notion that the skirt had not been properly ironed. It was her loop of the day. I just don’t iron- full-stop, or once every six months if hard pressed (Ha!) so whether or not it was ironed sufficiently was really beyond my level of expertise. However, as I repeated many times to Nana, it was a fabric that could get away with looking like it was meant to be a bit crushed, so the few creases did nothing to diminish the overall effect. She was very cheerful and animated. It was a morning visit, her best time of the day.
On arrival Nana was out having a stroll, but I was assured she’d be back any minute so I busied myself reading the notice board. It is just such a relief that Nana is happy, and so gratifying to see.
There were only two times my eyebrows raised. Both were connected to the unironed skirt loop. At one time Nana gestured to a towel that was folded on the table and said ‘Well, I could have just worn that.’ and another time she plucked at her short-sleeved shirt and said ‘ I could take the skirt off and just wear this.’ In earlier days I would have just assumed she was joking but the delivery told me she wasn’t. Also the fact that a little while later she looked at the towel and remarked ‘Oh, that’s a towel.’
Still, all in all it was a great visit. We spoke for about half an hour without any anxiety on her part that she was missing something better, which often happens. We even manged a few jokes, some hers, some mine, but all with laughter from both of us.
The Alzheimer’s is always there, like a cloud hovering overhead. But sometimes the sun peeps out from behind it, and those are very good days.
I finally was able to visit my Nana yesterday. It had been a few weeks and the guilt was eating me alive. In my defence I did attempt to visit twice only to find her out on activities but I really like to see her once a week at least. It’s just with Daughter Number Two and the Current Person of Interest violently ill I thought I should steer clear of the Aged Care Facility for a while. Then it has been one thing after another, including two unsuccessful visit attempts.
Anyway, yesterday I made it. Nana was at an in-house exercise class. When I tapped her on the shoulder she smiled at me, and said ‘Hello’ and then her attention drifted back to the class and she continued on with her exercises like I popped up at her shoulder everyday. With some encouragement, from me and a staff member, she was persuaded to join me for a coffee at the little cafe there that opens twice a week. I indulged her with a caramel tart topped with real cream. She was very pleased with it. The cream, by her account, was delicious and she remarked that she had never had a little tart like this before. She also told me she can’t remember the last time she was sick and how lucky she is to keep good health. I guess that is the upside to the Alzheimer’s game. Every caramel tart is the first one she’s ever had and she really cannot remember being in ill health. Not a bad deal.
I am always heartened that she remembers us when we visit. I fear the day when she won’t. For the moment though there is comfort in her recognition of us and in her enjoyment of little things. She introduced me to a friend, Lillian, three times. Lillian stopped off at the table to tell me how lucky I am to have such a lovely lady for my Nana and I agreed with her that I was. I am glad Nana has found a friend but not surprised at all!
When I walked Nana back to her room it was lunchtime and she was not keen on joining everyone for lunch at all. She became quite childlike but I remained firm- a caramel tart and a coffee does not lunch make! When she finally gave in to my persistent encouragement she poked her tongue out at me before grumbling all the way to the table. ‘But Nana, it smells so nice! I can smell mashed potato!’ ‘Oh, potato? Ugh!’ I didn’t stay long enough to find out what the rest of the meal would be- I had to pick up Daughter Number Two- but I’ve found that if something is put in front of her she will eat it, especially with the peer pressure of people eating at the same table. While I don’t like to nag or baby Nana I also don’t like her skipping meals, she is so very frail now there is really nothing in reserve.
One day at a time. One visit at a time. Yesterday was a good visit and it was really great to finally see her.
Obviously I haven’t yet cultivated the discipline needed to blog daily. I am battling the grey fog that descends on me at this time of year and feel like writing this blog is a genuine attempt to have some kind of human contact. An attempt that tethers me to outside world but in a managable, gentle, ethereal way. Each day I tell myself this but each day I have been paralyzed by inertia.
But today I am here. I am not promising big things. Just saying I am here. I guess that is a start.
Well, it was a start. A start I made two days ago and didn’t finish. There was more after that but it wasn’t anything you’ll miss. I find it very frustrating feeling this way. It is like I am free falling and can’t seem to get close enough to get a grip on anything, even myself. However, I had a better day yesterday, and although I’m not sure how much I had to do with things I still feel a small sense of achievement. Or maybe it is just satisfaction- whatever! I’ll take it.
Yesterday I found our Nana a place in an aged care facility. This is a good thing. She has Alzheimer’s and things could not continue as they have been. I must say though that having found the place the logistic’s of moving her in are confronting to me.
Even though the actual WORKLOAD will fall to my sister! So all my pondering is quite self indulgent. It is just that we will have to start dismantling my Nana’s life, and while she is physically still with us- if not mentally most of the time- it feels kind of odd.
There is not much she will be able to take with her into the Aged Care facility. My practical sister counters that with the thought that there is not much Nana needs. This is so true. Nana would wear the same outfit of clothes until the end of time now, because she has no concept of having worn it before. Other possessions that may have once held meaning for her do so no longer, their worth lost in the swirling mists of her mind.
In a way the Alzheimer’s started dismantling Nana’s life awhile ago. Started dismantling her. It is hard for me to watch her go. I know it is inevitable that we will lose those we love- suddenly, slowly, by choice, permanently. The agony and the ecstacy go hand in hand. I think about the people I have loved and feel how lucky I am to have known them. I try to make each moment count because life is short.
Some days are just harder than others. Some days I just go through the motions, put one foot in front of the other and order pizza for dinner. Some days I manage to finish a blog entry! I guess at the end of each day I can say that I have tried. And I have loved.