Monday, March 22, 2010

My crazy grandfather

When I talk about my crazy grandmother and my crazy grandfather, I mean two very different things. The former, my mom’s mom, is eccentric. She is a product of her generation, location and experiences. She started out life on her grandmother’s farm before moving in with her mother and stepfather at age 5, relocating often, eventually marrying young and then becoming a widowed mother of three children at age 36. Her often tragic life has morphed her into the off-beat, bird-loving old woman who can’t pass up a deal or throw anything away. This woman is the grandmother who recently broke her leg after hip-replacement surgery and is currently (but – fingers crossed – temporarily) in a skilled nursing facility.

My crazy grandfather, on the other hand, is actually crazy. My dad’s father is a World War II vet of the U.S. Navy. Sometime in his life, he developed an addiction to some kind of medicine. I think it was a pain killer, but it might have been some kind of antidepressant. A quack doctor kept him on it for years – decades – longer than he should have, and when another finally took him off the drug, he had a break with reality. When I was six, he and my grandmother divorced. (Incidentally, this grandmother – whom I often dub my “nice grandmother” – is the one who was in the hospital last year with heart problems.) He spent quite a while wandering around, including stints in Malaysia and Singapore, trying to escape people who probably were never looking for him. For years, he has had certain bills sent to my father’s house out of his bizarre paranoia. I received sporadic birthday and Christmas cards from him briefly – usually with my named misspelled – and then nothing for years. He stayed somewhat connected to my aunt and father while he relocated frequently within this country. Maybe about three years ago, he settled back down in the town where he and my grandmother had married. I’ve seen him twice, I believe, in the past 20 years. As a teenager, I determined it was impossible for me to maintain a relationship with him, and ever since I tend to forget he even exists. I know how awful that must sound, but it’s the truth. My mom’s dad died 14 years before I was born, and this one has never been present, so in my mind, I have two grandmothers and no grandfathers.

My crazy grandfather is 83 years old. As my two grandmothers descend into predictable patterns of ill health associated with aging, he, too, has begun to deteriorate. He has actually taken remarkably good care of himself for years, remembering to test his blood sugar and not falling victim to any diabetes-related complications the lonely and elderly often do. Recently, however, he has grown more and more forgetful. Last week, my dad received unpleasant news: my grandfather – whom I called Pa Paw in the days before – is declining. A recent illness kept him from his regular visits to the VA to get his pills organized and, as a result, he hasn’t taken them in days. He also doesn’t remember to eat all the time. He lives alone in a town an hour away from the rest of us, so tending to his needs is no easy task. My aunt and father are trying to figure out the best way to take care of him, but it isn’t as easy as having someone drop in to check on him. Though in most ways his mental condition is leaps and bounds above what it once was, he remains an old man with a bad memory and a looming paranoia that makes him distrust many people and entities that are designed to help him. My dad and resourceful aunt are making calls in an attempt to get him some help (from the VA, Adult Social Services, Meals On Wheels, etc.), so hopefully things will stabilize soon.

I suppose I’m lucky to have made it to 25 before my grandparents began declining. It’s unfortunate it should happen to all of them at once, but that’s life. Right now, I’m trying to figure out the best way to be useful. I’m happy to drop in on my grandmothers, but I cannot do that with my crazy grandfather. I doubt he would recognize me or let me in the house, and I honestly don’t want to see him. There isn’t a way for me to send money except for well-concealed cash, which doesn’t sound like a good idea. My dad asked me to make myself available to do some sibling wrangling in case he or his girlfriend need to pay a call on my grandfather. You never have to twist my arm to spend time with the kids, especially if it helps my dad take care of his own father. I guess that can be my contribution until I figure out something more proactive. I want to be a good granddaughter – did I mention I’m the oldest, but the one in which he’s shown the least interest? – but it’s hard to be dutiful to someone you hardly remember.


Anonymous said...

I think your ideas on contributing are perfect.

It certainly isn't your fault you're not closer to him.

I'm thinking of you...

janet said...

It's really hard to watch people you care about deteriorate. Please don't ever feel bad about your lack of closeness to your grandfather- it's not your fault.
That you even want to help with this situation says so much about your character, you are a kind, good person Brigid. Helping by watching the kids is a wonderful contribution.

Robin Thomas said...

Bridget, it doesn't sound like this guy has invested much time in family. So I guess he will not get much family investment back. Supporting your father is actually a wonderful way to help. Probably the most proactive way. As a parent with a mother I am caring for, I definitely want my daughter to be friendly with my mother, aware of taking the time to be kind and show interest, but I do not feel she has to care give at all to her. I want her to support me. Listen to me, take care of things for herself when possible, that sort of thing. Hopefully the VA can place him. Also Medicare contributes to care giving. Mainly Since my mother left all the things in her life for me to deal with, I am learning not to do that with my daughter. Hopefully it will open a dialog about what you parents want and vice versa when their inevitable decline occurs. Oh, and super well written post also. Hugs to you.

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