04 December 2013


The Monday before Thanksgiving was supposed to be an easy day. I was to meet Gran at her place in the morning, load her things into the van, take her to the doctor and spend the afternoon getting her settled into her new home. Like a parent dropping a child at college for the first time, I became obsessed with making sure the room was set up correctly and to her liking, decorated with her favorite things. I wanted so badly for her to like the place that I planned to spend the afternoon with her…and I wanted to spend the night on her couch to make sure she wasn’t alone her first night.

My therapist said that my college helicopter mom analogy was good but that my obsession more closely resembled a mother dropping her child at kindergarten in lieu of university. When I heard her likening my grandmother to a helpless five-year-old, I was first gutted at the idea, but upon listening further, I began to understand what she was saying. I was so busy focusing on everything that could have gone wrong, including my grandmother’s emotional state, that I forgot about all of the wonderful staff members with policies and procedures in place to make sure Gran adjusts as well as she can.

This is the first time I have ever spent time with a therapist or family counselor, and I am enjoying the outlet and outsider’s perspective. The combination of Gran’s health scare, her short-term memory loss and new living situation coupled with family drama revolving around Gran’s health and wellbeing, made me realize early on that having someone to talk to when I landed in the U.S. would be necessary.

Friends often provide the right kind of therapy – good people who listen and offer advice to the best of their ability and understanding – but most of my really good friends would be on opposite time zones and I didn’t want to constantly bother any of them with my drama stories. For the record, I had been so consumed by Gran’s situation and my overwhelming obsession to take care of everything myself that I actually hadn’t spoken to any of my friends for my first three weeks in the U.S. – not even my friends in the U.S. received a phone call, including my best friend, whose birthday I completely forgot until more than a week after the date. Awesome friend I am.

Writing has become a form of therapy for me and I have realized that I love to put into physical words what I might not otherwise say out loud and share things with people who are complete strangers because I don’t usually receive judgment or feedback. You, as the reader, have a choice as to whether or not you want to keep reading. If you stop reading, I will keep writing. However, when it comes to family drama and my opinion on family-related hot topics, I believe that this blog is not the place to publish my opinions. I will absolutely in some way hurt people’s feelings and this is not exactly the outlet for being completely honest about hard to hear declarations.

Without friends in town or a viable outlet to relive my stress, I knew that I needed another form of therapy and I thought real therapy would benefit me. Though I have never sought counseling, I completely respect the process and I have often encouraged those I know to seek therapy in tough situations. A good therapist listens, offers insight into how a person deals with certain situations and unveils behaviors patterns we do not often see in ourselves.

In my last session, I completely understood the kindergarten analogy once it was explained, and I learned a few other things about myself that I never realized – really good session. To the point though, the assisted living community has people on staff to care for my grandmother so that I do not have to worry about doing things myself. They have caregivers who check on Gran to see if she wants to go down to the dining hall for a meal. At meal time, they have her sit with different residents daily so that she has the opportunity to meet everyone. They have people who run activities and tell Gran what is happening when. She’ll be fine. Unfortunately, I wasn’t reminded of this until Friday; Monday I was still an obsessed helicopter mom.

After Gran’s doctor’s appointment we headed out of Salem and into Columbiana to get her settled. Upon arrival she was introduced to the nursing staff and some care givers and then she was escorted into her room where some more people came in and showed her how to use things like the heating and air unit, her call buttons and the shower. I continued to unpack her belongings and get things situated while she listened.

Once all of the people left, Gran began to complain of pain in her arm. She felt sick and was sweating through her clothes so we called the doctor. The lady on the phone said her symptoms were not typical of a shot reaction (she received two shots earlier in the day) and that if her pain worsened we should take her to the hospital.

Two hours after Gran checked into her new home, we were packing her back into the van and checking her into the emergency department. Her sweat turned to chills and the pain in her arm became so extreme that she moaned with every breath. She actually scared me. While she was in agony, my mom and I sat beside her bed. I don’t know what was going through my mom’s mind but I kept wondering what I was supposed to do.

I couldn’t do anything, of course, there were nurses doing things, but I wondered whether or not we should be making conversation as if nothing at all was wrong. I thought about making jokes. Gran wasn’t in the mood for my jokes but she did crack her own once or twice.

Five hours later we were back in her new home. The ED doctor advised that her pain was due to one of the shots she received, guessing that the nurse who administered the shot may have hit a nerve. The reaction was atypical and there was nothing the doctor or the hospital staff could do except advise that she take some pain meds already in her possession and use a hot or cold compress, whichever made her pain more bearable. Monday night was going to be a long night with a very unhappy Granny.

Gran was going to need extra assistance that evening since the pain in her arm was so severe that she was unable to lift or put pressure on her arm, which meant she could not get herself up and down. We were able to use a wheelchair to get her from Point A to Point B but her wheely walker was not going to be an option.

I volunteered to take the night shift and sleep on the couch as long as my mom would be able to relieve me the next day. I knew that I was in for a long, probably sleepless night, and I knew I was going to need to sleep the next day. Thankfully, my mom was able to rearrange her work schedule, putting in a few hours in the morning and then completing some business off site Tuesday.

Monday night was a rough night as anticipated. I fulfilled the role of an untrained nurse and, though I completely respected the position before (I have many friends and family members who are amazing nurses), I now have a whole new respect for the work that nurses do every day.

I slept a total of three hours that night as I cared for Gran in ways I never would have imagined. I observed her in so much pain, knowing again that there was nothing I could do to make her feel better. I got her in and out of bed seven times throughout the night, repositioning her when she needed, administering her medication when she was able to take it. She was in so much discomfort that she even moaned and groaned in her sleep. I felt awful and realized just how much I never, ever want to be in that state.

By the time my mother arrived Tuesday, Gran was doing better. She had stopped moaning and had started walking on her own, using her walker instead of the wheelchair. She was tired and slept most of the day but she was definitely improving. With a snow storm rolling in, my mom volunteered to take the night shift Tuesday night while I sought solace in my own comfy bed.

Wednesday Gran was even better. She was a bit grouchy in the morning – a trend we have noticed since the stroke – but her mood had improved by the time I saw her in the early afternoon. She had not yet explored her new building but she had at least been out of the room. Wednesday was a good day.

That afternoon I met my lifelong friend on her drive through Ohio and spent the evening near Akron with her and her grandmother so that we could prepare for my favorite holiday. Anna Marie was born four months after I – our mothers became best friends in high school and we have sort of grown up together, though we have only lived in the same state for one of our 31 years. Because of our mothers’ friendship, our grandmothers are dear friends and they love to spend time with one another so we have traditionally spent Thanksgiving on the Smith farm.

Anna Marie and I prepared our turkey brine and soaked our famous bird (this year named James because a turkey from the same farm where we purchased our turkey recently won best dish of the evening at a James Beard dinner) in a cozy saltwater, brown sugar and peppercorn bath and then we went to bed.

In the morning, we dressed James, stuffed him with stuffing (EVIL, I know) and began making the rest of the day’s meal while we watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was turning out to be a great morning.

Then my mom called with some disappointing news. “Gran is in a foul mood this morning and she says she’s not coming to Thanksgiving.” Whaaat?! “She was fine yesterday,” I responded and my mother assured me that today was just another day – apparently a bad day.

No encouraging, on the phone or in person, made my grandmother change her mind. Though I called four times before 1 o’clock, she not once answered the phone. I was incredibly disappointed but my mood altered once my mom walked through the door.

We had a nice dinner anyway and gave Gran a do-over. Friday, Anna Marie and her grandmother joined my mom and me at Gran’s residence to enjoy a leftover Thanksgiving lunch. We set up in the library my grandmother didn’t even know she had, next to the fire while the outside world was blanketed in snow.

When we had finished, I saw Gran’s sister-in-law poking around the corner. Aunt Pern is hilarious and very nosy – she likes to be where the people are, even though she isn’t a terribly social person. I think she just likes us.

From the time I was a child, I looked up to her and told my mom that when I got to be old, I wanted to be like Aunt Pern. Though she is from Maryland, she has the sweetest twinge of a southern accent and she still calls a couch the davenport. She is feisty and comical and seems to be one of everyone’s favorite residents.

Pern’s memory is far worse than Gran’s. Though I saw her every day for a week, she never once knew who I was right away, though she did seem to recognize me in less time with each visit. She thinks her older sister is “Grandma,” she thinks my grandmother is my mother and that my mother is my sister. She will talk to me three times in one conversation about my dimples and how hers have disappeared, and she will ask four times during dinner what is on her plate.

Having family down the hall makes Gran feel more at home. Now that her pain has stopped and her schedule is more manageable, Gran is doing very well. She has made more friends and likes to tell me with whom she had breakfast and dinner. She talks to everyone and likes to participate in nearly every offered activity. Last weekend Mom called Gran to say she was coming for a visit. “I’m walking the halls right now and after lunch I have Bingo so you will have to come later,” she advised. Mom and I cracked up. She’s doing just fine. 

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