Monday, February 18, 2008

My Grandma's Immeasurable Sadness

On the way to see my moms to give them the news yesterday, we stopped by to see my grandmother (fairly briefly, as my mother kept calling to ask when we'd be there). She is in decent health, all things considered. She is overweight, smoked for 60 years (quit 8 or 9 years ago, leading to much of the extra weight), and will be 90 this year, but her heart is in good shape physically and her doctor routinely gives her a fairly clean bill of health.

But while her heart is in decent shape physically, the emotional trauma it suffered when my grandfather died in his sleep 10 years ago has left it broken, growing more fractured with each passing year. And this has left her without any joie de vivre. I'm not sure how often she gets out of her living room chair anymore, even though she gets around fine with her walker. I know she goes to the dining room at her retirement home for dinner, but she turns down all invitations to do anything else (or accepts, then backs out at the last minute), so people (friends and family) have stopped asking. She has, for the past few weeks, refused to have her hair done. She doesn't read any more, or watch TV, in part because her eyesight and her hearing are both bad, and she refuses to do anything about either one. And, because of the hearing, she is terrible on the phone.

Her refusal to do anything but sit and await death has, predictably, begin to impede her cognitive functioning. She no longer has any stimulation to keep her mind going, so it's starting to slow down. And as she loses her short term memory, she retreats deeper into the past, struggling more and more to find anything to enjoy in the present or to look forward to in the future. And this creates a vicious cycle. It shocks and horrifies me that, until I did so yesterday, no one in her life has suggested that perhaps anti-depressants might help with some of the emptiness and loneliness she feels. They may not help, but neither will failing to consider them.

Seeing her like this overwhelms me with sadness and truly breaks my heart. This woman went to Radcliffe. She taught science because it gave her great joy to share her love with young people. She is an amazing woman who still has so much to give. My grandfather was never willing to travel, so she never did any traveling either. He thought overseas travel was too dangerous, so she never went to England, which was her lifelong dream. But, for my twelfth birthday, she did take her first real vacation -- we went to Bermuda, just the two of us, and had a wonderful time. I wish I knew what to do to give something back to her and, especially, to make her stop hoping for the end of it all.

For reasons of family politics, I knew I couldn't give her the news before my moms, so we'll have to make another trip down her way in the next couple of weeks to share our news with her. She hasn't been particularly excited about any of her five great-grandsons (my cousins' kids) thus far, but I also know I've always been very special to her (and was to my grandfather as well). I lived close by when I was little, so I saw her often. Plus, I'm the only girl grandchild or great-grandchild, as she reminds me each time I see her. Finally, unlike anyone else in the family, she always felt I took after her side of the family, both in appearance and personality, and points it out often. I'm really hoping our news will bring a little light to her life and give her something to keep living for.


waitinginline said...

I'm sorry for your grandmother's state. I understand it and it is heartbreaking.

I hope your soon-to-be-announcement brings her a new lease on life!!!

Katie said...

Oh, it's so sad to read about your Grandma. Mine was the same after my Grandpa died. After sixty years of marriage, she just never quite learned out to live without him. She started to decline in such a similar way and it was heartbreaking to watch.

But one thing that always perked my Grandma up was a new baby! Even after several strokes, she would somehow will the strength to hold a newborn and gaze upon it with such love and awe. I pray your grandmother gets the same joy from your little one.