I’m not sure why I packed for a month, but I did. I felt like a bag lady with my oversized duffle, bulging backpack, and large purse. But, with a limited time to pack and no idea what weather in Florida would be like over the week of Christmas, I just threw in everything. It has literally been years since my whole family has taken a road trip together. So long that we no longer have a car which fits everyone, but thanks to the use of our friends’ van we were soon on our way from Southern Illinois to Florida with a two night stop in Tennessee for a wedding.
The call came in somewhere between Tennessee and Florida. There had been a car accident. It’s the kind of call no one wants to get. Details were sketchy. Grandma had been airlifted to a hospital in Ocala. Grandpa was taken by ambulance to a near by hospital. Things seemed stable but not good.
Apart from some broken ribs and back pain my grandpa was doing well physically, but he suffers from Alzheimer’s and is unable to live on his own. He came home in time for Christmas, and we were all there. My aunt cooked Christmas dinner at her house and brought it over. All the good stuff—ham, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes.
Part of us went to visit Grandma. Her leg was shattered to the point of needing surgery, and the pain medicine she is on is making her delusional. The hospital staff say this is common in someone her age, but it is hard to see someone you love not recognize you and insist that they are cooking a meal in their own home while they are laying flat on their back in a hospital bed. Snippets of the conversation made sense, but most was gibberish as Grandma reached up to invisible shelves attempting to put away invisible dishes.
The last couple of days have been mushed together. My family had to head back to Illinois. My sister is leaving to teach for a semester in Kenya and has less than a week to pack and get on the plane. Everyone else has jobs and previous commitments to return to. Thankfully, I have a flexible job at the moment and am able to stay a little bit longer while things get settled.
My aunt and uncle and Florida cousins have been amazing finding a beautiful assisted living facility for my grandpa to move in to and really making it feel like home. Grandpa resisted at first insisting that he was fine staying on his own, but when you can’t remember how to make a telephone call it is not good to stay by yourself. My mom and aunts had the hard job of making decisions and getting all of the details to fit in place. My job has been much easier listening to my grandpa tell stories and helping out with little things. Even though I’ve heard the same set of stories over and over during the last couple of days it has been good at times, and I even heard a couple of new ones. But, it’s hard explaining to my grandpa who I am over and over, and it’s not easy listening to him talk about how he thinks he should still be able to drive even though the state of Florida has revoked his license.
“It’s not easy getting old,” he says, “my forgettery works better than my memory.” I have to agree with him. Loosing your independence must be a very difficult thing. But it was good beyond words to see him today start to settle into his new home. What could have been a very difficult thing turned into a beautiful transition as he slowly went from hostile to happy. He liked the food. He liked the staff, and by the end of the day he had convinced himself that he had stayed in this facility once before after a surgery. I wasn’t going to argue with him. It’s not the home he built and has lived for many, many years, but it can become home and at least he is finally willing to give it a try.