Easter and Alzheimer's

It was six years ago that my brothers and I went to our grandparents' house for Easter. I had insisted on cooking all of the sides, but Grandpa insisted on buying the ham from Honey Baked Ham Co. Since those are quite expensive, I wasn't going to object. I don't remember every dish I made, though I can assume it was the usual foods I make for holidays. Deviled eggs, twice baked potatoes, green beans, croissants, etc. etc.

Tom came to pick me up. I don't remember if my car was broke down or just low on gas, but I had to listen to his music the whole way there and back. One song will always stand out for me, and I'll remember it for years to come. I wound up buying it, even, just so I could hang on to the hopeful feelings it gave me. It was "Good Day" by Greg Street.

We got to Grandma's house and began to set up for lunch. Grandma tried to regale us with what she thought were funny stories of her forgetfulness, but she kept getting lost in her tales. Grandpa would clear his throat, pick up the thread of her story, she'd remember where she was, and continue on with it. We three "kids" found her increasingly rapid memory decline startling.

Grandma told us about how she blew up some boiled eggs by letting the pot boil dry on the gas stove. The grandkids all shared a look of concern. That could've started a fire. "Oh, it almost did!" Grandma told us with a big smile. The bottom of the pan burned through. Eggs exploded and flew all over the kitchen. It was a nightmare. Grandpa had also been falling lately. He'd started using a walker, but his neuropathy was spreading the numbness of his feet. Someday, he wouldn't be able to feel his legs at all except for the constant, sharp pain of "pins and needles."

We all left, feeling uneasy about leaving them alone. We had a family discussion and decided that the best thing to do was for one of us to move in with them. My brothers felt that it should be me, and I agreed. They had a house and lives. I just went to work or to Krav Maga, then went home. I was already pretty much only social with family, anyway.

Two days later, I moved in with my old people. Six months later, I was driving them to all of their doctor's appointments. I got to know the staff at their dr's office. I knew all of their medications and what they were for. I became their healthcare advocate, pressing their doctor for the latest Alzheimer's medicines that were available, watching the dosage schedule so that I'd know when to press him for higher dosages for her.

I began to take my grandpa to the VA, because he got better care from them than his regular doctor. The VA hospital was a godsend. I couldn't have gotten through that last year and a half without the VA and all of their help with my grandpa's care.

For four and a half years, I was the primary caretaker for a grumpy old man and a sweet, forgetful, delusional old lady. Their care was almost taken from me several times because the doctors knew I couldn't keep working full time AND take care of two people that needed 24-hour supervision. God granted me the gift of my husband. My sweet, gentle Karim would bathe, feed, and clothe my wheelchair-bound grandpa. We worked opposite shifts and coordinated with Grandpa's nurses so that my old people were never alone. We managed like that for over a year before their care needs reached beyond our skills, despite our most concerted efforts of bringing in others to watch them as well. 

Now, it's Easter again. This year, there are no deviled eggs, no twice baked potatoes, and there is definitely not an Easter ham. There will never again be an Easter ham for me, now that I don't eat pork anymore. But it's not the food I miss today. It's my family. I miss hearing my grandma's warbling voice as she tells us half-remembered stories. I miss the deep sound of my grandpa clearing his throat before he grumbles a brief addendum to his wife's butchered tellings. I miss the laughter that we couldn't resist when she inadvertently says something hilarious. 

On this particular Easter--their last one living on their own--my grandma was struggling with a story about church. They'd done an Easter re-enactment play. She said the name of some man I didn't know, insisting that I should remember him, even though I hadn't gone to church with them for nearly two decades. She said that I should know who he is because he was someone important in the play. But she couldn't remember who it was that he played. The conversation moved on for a few minutes until she busted out with, "It was Jesus!" My brothers and I lost it. We laughed and laughed, much to the confusion of our old people. But those words were a joke for us and, said with the right inflection, it always made us laugh. I'll never forget that moment. It was our last moment of joy with them while they were free for the last time. Because for the rest of their lives, they'd have me looking after them, refusing to let them do dangerous things like cooking, laundry, cleaning, or driving. 

It's been a year and a half since I lost my old people, only three weeks apart from each other. I still miss them every day.