Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Holding my breath

It's funny how I don't even realize I'm waiting for the bad things to happen until there is some momentary relief and I'm able to let go of the breath I've been holding and relax a bit.

My mom called a couple nights ago. I didn't answer the phone because we'd just spent all day shopping and I was sitting in bed with my swollen feet up on a pillow, knowing I could never race to find and answer my cell phone in time. My dear sweet husband tried...but the depths of my purse delayed his valiant attempt. Anyway...
Mom called to tell me that my grandmother, her mom, had fallen and possibly broken her shoulder. My grandma is 80+ years old. Don't ask me an exact age because I don't know it (and I'm not sure anyone else does either, to tell the truth). She has been deteriorating physically for the last couple of decades, partly because she is 80+ years old and partly because she lives on a diet that consists mostly of cheesy puffs and coffee. But her physical health has taken a much more serious turn for the worse during the last year or two. She is...in a word...frail. And this frightens me.

This is a woman who could not sit still to save her life. We would always joke that we needed to invite her to visit when our rooms needed cleaned because she would come and, like a tornado, clean the entire house until is sparkled. Of course, we wouldn't be able to find anything for a month or more because she always developed a new system for putting things away every single time. I remember one time she even made fast work of my Dad's tool bench and garage. Oh boy! The muttering went on for what seemed like forever.

My grandma taught me how to ride a bike out on the dusty dirt road beside her house. She taught me how not to drown...though I was completely beyond the ability to actually learn how to swim. She taught me how to cook her favorite meals, which were usually very large...she was, after all, a survivor of the depression and food was a way to express love. No matter what time we arrived at her house for our yearly Christmas visit, she would have ham and turkey and all the trimmings ready for a feast. She taught me all her gardening secrets for a veggie garden full of yummy stuff. She hauled heavy branches into a pile for a bonfire after a big storm would shake them off the trees in her yard. She took us fishing with grandpa and showed us how even girls could touch a gross fish. She always slipped us a couple dollars when she thought nobody was watching...not realizing grandpa was doing the same in the next room.

Grandma has always been mentally ill, though not officially diagnosed because her fear of doctors prevents her from seeing them on anything more than the truly exceptional occasion (she had a hernia literally bulging out of her abdomen before she would see a doctor...and even then we had to threaten her with physical force if she didn't go). She has always had delusions that make it very difficult to relate to her emotionally. You just never knew when she was going to trip out and start telling you how she helped invent the Lego and then got screwed out of her share of the resulting fortune. So we were always on our guard, even when I was a little girl, not quite sure how close to get emotionally.

But she is my grandma, and as I've gotten older I've come to appreciate every little thing about her that makes her the person she is. It's been difficult to handle her emotionally. And as she ages, her dementia seems to get worse. She did manage a doctor visit recently where she was cleared of the dreaded Alzheimers. She's just old...and her mind is failing. But I've had a lifetime to prepare for that. What has been truly startling is her physically decline. The woman we joked would outlive us all, now appears as though she could break into pieces if you hug her too hard.

Mom called again last night. I was almost asleep, but Steve knew I wanted any updates. Grandma doesn't have a broken shoulder...just a hairline fracture of the Humerous (the large, upper bone of the arm). Just a hairline fracture. Just...I nearly cried. At her age, just a hairline fracture is a big deal...but it's less of a big deal than a broken shoulder. Breathe.

Some days I really wish I could go back to those summer days, floating in grandma's pool...or riding that little red two-wheeler bike down that dusty road with grandma shouting encouragement from behind. I know that some day I'm going to have to say goodbye. But I'm just not ready. Not just yet. Not today. Tomorrow I'll go back to holding my breath.


R said...

I'm here holding my breath, too. My 3 living grandparents are 93, 93, and 95. I think I'm going to call my grandma today, thanks to this post.
You're such a talented writer.

Jill said...

I would love to see the movie of your Grandma's life. It sounds as though it would be a wonderful tale of humanity.

kate said...

Glad it is not a broken shoulder.

Wow, your Grandma sounds like a real character...thanks for telling us about her!