Today I moved my grandma from assisted living across the parking lot to the Alzheimer's unit. My mom needed help sorting through her clothes and hanging pictures on the wall. I never gave the chore a second thought, as it is just one more thing to check off my to-do list. I had no idea what an impact this chore would have on me. I came home to hurdle myself in to my husband's arms. Needing him to remind me that right now is special. We are blessed.
As we started through her closet of clothes I couldn't help but think of the life my grandma has led. The journey that has taken her through finding the love of her life, raising a family, and now leading a very different, quiet life. One that only requires a bed, two chairs, and a closet of clothes. Her roommate Betty was watching quietly from the other side of the room, making sure I wasn't packing up any of her things while the oxygen tank hummed in the background. Every once in a while, when I didn't recognize an article of clothing, I would hold it up for her to see and she would smile and shake her head. Suddenly Betty broke her silence "I'm sure going to miss her." As her sentence broke off sharply, I turned to see her body shaking with sobs. She covered her eyes and I walked to her bedside. I realized that grandma is still touching people with her kindness and connecting with people even in that small nursing home. We talked a little about how wonderful Joanne is and how this move really is the best thing for her. I assured Betty that no, grandma won't think she had to move because of her. And yes, you will still get to see her.
As the movers were loading the larger items into my grandma's new room, I wandered over to the building where my mother had told me my high school french teacher lived. Madame is also a victim of Alzheimer's, and as I crossed the parking lot, I couldn't believe how time has flown, how it could be possible for such a brilliant mind to fade? I was buzzed in by staff and greeted by an ancient gentleman who's glasses kept slipping down his nose. The staffer turned to him and, pointing at my 4 year old "Look John, isn't he cute?" John stared at him, and the staff person put a finger up to slide John's glasses back up again. Carter and I wandered over to a table where there was an equal number of staff and residents and I immediately spotted Madame. I walked to her and introduced myself. "I'm Amy. I used to be in your french class, and we went to Paris together." She smiled and gave a small giggle. I spouted off some of the sentences I had memorized all those years ago and she gave me a look that assured me that she understood what I was saying. The other women marveled at Carter and wanted to know if he had started nursery school yet. A woman who told me Carter had my nose also advised me to get him in school, it's good for him. I said goodbye and felt a tug at my heart remembering Madame and all the people she invested in throughout her teaching career. How many lives she touched, and she can't account for any of it now.
I was buzzed into grandma's building and saw her at the table, playing Yahtzee with her new neighbors, and a handful of staff. Grandma turned to me and Carter and gave us each a hug, whispering "they can't make me play". I don't think she knows who I am anymore but somewhere deep down I hope she realizes I'm family. As they took turns shaking the die, 3 people would nod off , sitting straight up, mouths slack with sleep. The staff jovially moved from person to sleeping person rallying them to shake the dice with a song or even a dance. Another staff person walked in slowly escorting a frail old man, eyes weeping, mouth wide, maneuvering his stiff body into a nearby chair. Then she wiped the sides of his mouth with a cloth. I left grandma to check out her new, smaller room.
As I unpacked grandmas clothing into her new closet, a woman came bursting through the door. "COME HERE. " she bellowed at me. "Come see this. You won't believe this." She gestures toward her room, "come ON!" I follow her obediently and she continues into her bathroom. I follow the woman into her room, wondering what could be so awful that she had to summon me, a virtual stranger in to her bathroom. "Look at this." she shook her head gesturing to an empty medicine cabinet. "They took it. All of it. Can you believe it? Ugh, that's it. I'm going to call my son and I am leaving here. That. IS. IT." So I politely took her by the arm to find a staff person to report this terrible crime. As we walk down the hall, she glances down at Carter seeing him for the first time and her expression softens. "I had all boys, and then THEY all had boys. No girls in the family. Just boys." She shakes her head sadly. We reported the crime, and the sweet staff person did not look a bit shocked. She reassures Martha that her room had been locked the whole time and nothing was missing. She took Martha's arm and walked her back to her room, and I got to hear the story of Martha and her first car, a corvette from her dad. She tells me she was pretty spoiled by her dad because she was an only child, but she got good grades, so that makes it okay. I really think I'm gonna like Martha.
I know that this is the cycle of life. And on every other day, it's easy to digest the changes that come. Right now, I'm having all these feelings bubbling up and I just needed to write it out. Name each one just to clarify.
1. Awe. The people who work in nursing homes are angels. They genuinely love their patients, and I'm sure they don't get paid what they deserve.
2. Sadness. Life is short. I'm so afraid I'm missing it. I have to remind myself daily to listen to my kids. To play with them.
3. Hope. I don't want to be forgotten. I want my life to glorify God in great ways and leave this world a little brighter when I'm called home.
4. Compassion. The people I met today are inspiring and wise. We need make time for them.
5. Humor. I can only imagine what I will look like at that age. But I'm hoping I can keep some of my spunk. Just like Martha.