Monday, January 18, 2010

The Grandma Chronicles

Grandma is Gigi's mother, The Editor's & Busy Body's maternal grandmother. Gigi lived within 10 miles of her house her whole life, except when she went off to college for a few years.

I miss her all the time. Not in a crying, sentimental way; but in the way you miss something you never thought you’d have to learn to live without. On holidays, I miss her most: This is one story about her at this Christmas season.

My mom was a high-maintenance person. I don’t know if she planned to demand so much of my time and attention or if it just happened that way. She had a soft voice with a touch of the south in her speech and she cajoled more than demanded. And so it was that I was at her house one afternoon to take her somewhere to do something. She had combed her hair, but it wasn’t smoothed down in the back. I was standing in the doorway of the bathroom, willing her to hurry up, and realized she was only combing what she could see in the mirror. She hadn’t turned on the light and it aggravated me that she wasn’t ready to go and it was probably her fault because she couldn’t see what she was doing. I took the comb from her and started to comb the places she had missed.

She was given to saying things that were out of context and made sense only after I searched through my memory bank to figure out what she was saying. She came up with one of those phrases, “Honey, don’t forget me.” Oh, forevermore. I am here. I am ready to do what you need to do, want to do, have a whim to do. Please don’t guilt trip me with some of that mother talk. And so I said something impatient like, Don’t be silly. How could I forget you, you’re my mother.

The semi-darkness of the bathroom was a symbol that I didn’t recognize or chose to ignore: A sign of the darkness that was about to overtake her life, and also, mine. All the signs were there, I guess I wanted to ignore them. I would rather have been impatient and aggravated than have to come to the realization of what was happening. Now, in retrospect, I think she knew. I don’t think she meant that I shouldn’t forget her, but that she didn’t want to forget me; although that’s exactly what happened.

I wish I had said something profound to her that day, something that would have conveyed to her the depth of my feelings for her. I wish I had hugged her and said, “Oh, mom, you are unforgettable.”

Although we eventually had to have a full-time caregiver for her, she still needed more time and attention than we could provide, and someone told me about a day care at the senior center. They would send a van to pick her up and bring her home. There were activities and special entertainments and outings and a hot lunch. It sounded ideal to me: She didn’t want to go. It turned into a battle of determined wills.

Her favorite admonition to me all my life was to be a lady.
When I was in my forties, she even decoupaged the above plaque for me about the value of being ladylike. She was sincere in her role modeling and so I sincerely tried to meet her expectations.

She remained lucid in whatever subject she wanted to be lucid in, and she reminded me –often—that she had never gone out looking tacky and I better not do that to her now. She had always worn skirts and when she went out somewhere she wore “stockings”. But trying to put panty hose on a flailing, resisting mother as she stiffened her legs and rotated her ankles was impossibility. Trying to get her out of the house “bare-legged” was more impossible. I had an aversion to knee-highs because they were unbecoming, certainly not ladylike, with skirts.

Victoria’s Secret had beautiful thigh-highs with lacy, filmy tops. Their target market was not to those in their eighties, but I thought they might work. She loved them. She valued them. She wanted to wear them. So every day she was dressed up in the dresses she had been saving for “special occasions”, her long string of faux pearls were wrapped around her neck and her thigh highs were smoothed and a beautiful pair of slippers put on the feet that had become so twisted that hard shoes no longer fit, and she was off for the senior center where, because of the way she insisted she be dressed or the imperiousness with which she bossed everyone around, they called her the Duchess--and she never corrected them.

We each had won our battle or so I thought.

Until one morning, when the caregiver was given some time off and I was “on duty”, she decided it was payback time for some of my early years shenanigans—at least I think that’s why she acted so willfully. I couldn’t please her with anything, and then she informed me (selective lucidity) that she could dress herself. I laid her clothes on the bed and said, fine, I will go and have the cup of coffee that I missed while I was trying to help you. I clicked the bedroom door shut (knowing that no matter what her mental or physical state, I would not get away with slamming it) and waited a sufficient amount of time to prove my point—that she needed me.

Opening the bedroom door, I gasped. Mom, my mom, had managed to put on those thigh highs perfectly: The thigh highs and nothing else. In her diaper and thigh highs, she was the embodiment of justified indignation. I said the first thing that popped into my head, you cannot go to school looking like that, it isn’t ladylike, (a direct quote from her to me on countless numbers of my school mornings.)

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I was struck by their ridiculousness. I started to laugh and the laughter built and built. She sat down on the side of the bed with her arms crossed and defiantly tried to stare me down. I laughed louder. I sat down beside her and put my arm around her and we rocked from side to side, but I was the only one laughing.

Alzheimer’s doesn’t have a sense of humor—at least, not to the one suffering its terrorist take-over. "Oh, mom, you are so unforgettable."

Posted by The Editor for Gigi

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