Fighting the Inevitable

It always seems to rain when I’m on Cape Cod. Maybe it’s life’s way of telling me I need to visit more often — I do my best to come when I can, to see family and a handful of friends and say a quick hello to the ocean (bad weather be damned). But maybe that’s not enough.

Especially now that my grandparents are showing their age. They never used to do that — sure, Grandma’s back got a little more hunched, and Grandad seemed to be shrinking as time went on, his fingers getting thick and bouldery from arthritis, but they were fine. The only way they really showed their age was with hair color and hearing aids.

imageMy Grandma is the sweetest little old woman you’ll ever meet. She’s got pretty blue eyes (thanks for the genes, Grandma!), and just a shade of an Oklahoma accent; she owns far too many sweaters. When I was a kid, she was my gum dealer; Becky and I would ask for a stick of gum, and she’d rip one in half and give us each a piece. Just about her favorite thing to do as far as I can tell is go to lunch; she likes to eat chicken fingers, and if for some godforsaken reason there are no chicken fingers imageon the menu, she’ll settle for crabcakes. When she was a little more spry, she would come up behind you and pat you on the bum for entertainment. And she always used to join in on family game time, especially for games like Scrabble and 99. My cousins and I have nicknamed her “Gma” (welcome to the digital age).

imageWe nicknamed my Grandad “Gdad”. Grandad is a gruff man of little words; he enjoys a good Scotch, and most days you can find him at Giardino’s with the boys. He co-owns a little hunting cabin in New Hampshire with two old friends, which they named Bear Lodge, and sometimes he’d bring the whole family up to stay there for vacation. He loves nature — whether he’s hunting it, or just watching it out the window. He always throws food out in the backyard for the birds, and religiously maintains the bird feeder in the front yard (it’s even got a heater!).image

The only real downside of moving away from Massachusetts is that I don’t get to see my family that much. Now that my grandparents are both in their 80’s, travel is too much for them, so it falls on me to come see them as often as I can.

In the past two years, they’ve both been taking a medical beating as their bodies have rebelled against their wishes. A few weeks ago, both of them were in the hospital with heart trouble. Grandad is still waiting to hear back about getting surgery to replace a heart valve, but all Grandma needed to be sent home from the hospital was some medicine.

But Grandma hasn’t gotten off the hook, health-wise. In fact, what was meant to be a simple weekend trip to go to a Red Sox game with my mom and aunt quickly turned into a perfectly timed trip to visit Grandma in the hospital. She’s fallen several times over the years, and this week it left her with a broken hip. After the hip surgery, she was admitted to a rehab center, and things were supposed to get better after that, but unfortunately, they took a turn for the worse: the rehab center gave this tiny old woman oxycodone, robbing her of her lucidity. With both my grandparents, the problem of deterioration has never been of the mind; so when this happened, it was a cold shock. It was pretty clear that the oxy was the problem, so my family asked the rehab center to take her off the oxycodone and just give her Tylenol for the pain. They agreed — and then the next day gave her a double dose of oxycodone.

So poor Grandma was all messed up. She wasn’t able to remember people, she was hallucinating, and she kept asking for her mother and father. My family moved her back to ICU at the hospital — just to get her out of rehab — but the damage has already been done. Since she hadn’t really been rehabilitated when she was supposed to be, it’s like starting from scratch. Everything hurts her. She can barely keep her eyes open. And while she is getting better, it’s such a slow, painful process that she thinks she’s getting worse.

Nothing is worse than hearing your grandmother say that she’s scared she’s going to die.

But in an odd way, the fact that she’s feeling that pain, and understanding it, proves that she’s getting better. She doesn’t believe us when we tell her that, of course, because she’s still in pain; but oh, she’s getting there.

I hate having to worry about my grandparents; as much as I hate to admit this, I worry that this will be the last time I see them face to face. I worry whether I said enough to them, expressed how much I love them — I probably didn’t, because I’m so scared that they’ll get freaked out and think I’m expecting them to die. I can imagine the greatest scenarios in my head in which I tell them how much they mean to me, and there’s that lovey dovey feel-good moment, but when I’m actually there, my mind goes blank, and suddenly it’s Tuesday — time to leave. So that worry remains. I think they know I love them. I mean, beyond the words “I love you” — I think they know that it’s not just words. But there’s still that part of me that says, it’s not enough that they know; I just want to spend more time with them. Look how selfish I am.

So now, I’m on a bus back to Harrisburg, thinking about how one day I’ll return to the Cape and catch a sunny day. And with any luck, it’ll be to visit my Gma and Gdad.

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