The last several weeks have been a blur—traveling to incredible new places all over Australia while silently wishing I could be on the other side of the world attending my Grandpa Pontier’s funeral. And yet, I’ve felt so wonderfully full making new memories and meeting new friends that it’s hard to even process everything. My childhood dream of seeing a koala came true, and as I stood gazing up at the furry gray ball sleeping away in a gum tree I couldn’t help but smile at the richness of it all. Life- it’s but a moment. I tried several times to blog about my grandpa after hearing that Alzheimer’s had taken its toll on his life, but words eluded me. It didn’t quite seem real until I saw the pictures posted of my mom receiving the flag that had draped his coffin. When I saw my Grandpa last he seemed frustrated. Ready to go home as he put it. Lonely for his wife, whom he had loved so faithfully, and ready to meet his Savior. He’s home now. Knowing how much he longed for that I’ve found it hard to be sad. He was a strong man, principled and very much in love with his birthplace, Congo. Even when Alzheimer’s set in and he would tell the same stories over and over, I still loved to hear his stories. There was the story about when he shot an elephant with a single shot, stories of frog hunting with his best friend, stories about his time in the US army, and stories of how a tall Texas gal had captured his heart. During my time in Kenya I saw a classroom building and house that he had built years before I was born. I smiled when I saw his work knowing that his labor as an engineer and builder was still being enjoyed not just in Kenya but in other parts of the world as well. I’m thankful for his legacy and thankful that I inherited his red hair as well as his love for Africa. I’m grateful to call such an amazing man my grandpa with all of his accomplishments and even with his flaws I loved him dearly. He taught me about faithfulness, and about the beauty of holding your partner’s hand no matter how old you grow. He taught me about the art of telling a good story, and he taught me to appreciating a country that is different from the one your passport reflects. I’m thankful for the life that he lived and even from thousands of miles away I was there in my thoughts as he was laid to rest—happy and finally home.
Tag Archives: Alzheimer’s
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.
He never called me by name. I wasn’t too surprised. He didn’t use my name when I saw him last at my cousin’s wedding. Still it was hard not hearing him say it. Grandpa is a solid six foot four, at least he was when he was younger. He prides himself in taking long walks and eats a banana with peanut butter for supper to keep his good cholesterol up and his bad cholesterol down. I’m sure his heart is healthy, but his mind is beginning to slip.
When I was younger, I used to go with grandpa on his daily walk. It was one of the few things I’d actually get up early for. We would bike for a stretch then I would do my best to keep up with his long stride. He’d cut his walk short when I tagged along so that my little feet wouldn’t get too tired.
On this visit to Florida I was feeling a bit restless. It was a beautiful day outside and my Canon Rebel was begging for some attention. I asked my sister if she wanted to go for a walk and Grandpa decided to join us. They walked ahead while I snapped pictures of Spanish moss and anything else that caught my eye.
Grandpa took the lead showing us the scenic route which cut through several private yards. I tried to steer him back to the road as best I could. Along the way he picked up several empty beer cans, and a monster can telling the story of how when he first took crushed cans to the scarp yard they’d paid him sixty dollars. I smiled. So far this trip I’d heard that story three times.
It’s not easy seeing a man who earned a master’s degree in mathematics struggle to come up with the word “wasp” describing what he wants to say until someone gives him the word. “That thing that flies and builds mud houses.”
I knew grandpa wouldn’t admit when he was tired, so I suggested we turn back after going 15 minutes out. As we entered the cul-de-sac an aluminum can in the neighbor’s trash caught his eye. He circled back to grab it. I watched him teeter as the sharp turn upset his balance. Grabbing the garbage can, I tried to steady it and prevent him from doing a complete head dive into the trash can. My sister grabbed his arm, and we both stood there straining under his weight wondering how we were going to call for help.
“I can get up,” he said after we had stood there tense for what seemed like ten minutes but was more likely 30 seconds. Methodically he paused to regained his balance, reached for the aluminum can, then pushed up on the plastic garbage can to get back on his feet. I reached into the trash to pull his watch out which had fallen from his front shirt pocket during the tumble. There was a time when Grandpa cut his walks short for my little legs now I just wanted to get him back home so he could rest in his favorite chair.