What can you let yourself off the hook for?
My grandmother spent the last five years of her life in facilities that provided gradually increasing levels of care. She suffered from vascular dementia, which meant that, towards the end, she could have a really good day, and then suffer a small stroke that would carry her even further away from us.
She died right before the reverb10 project began, and I consider it my great good fortune to have participated. It was a tremendous outlet for my grief.
What I have been struggling with for months is the guilt over how little time I spent with her at the end of her life. I have no good excuse for pulling away from the woman who was more than my grandmother…she was one of my best friends.
After my grandfather died, my grandmother stayed in their home for a couple of years. She began to decline pretty quickly, but for the most part, was still the same woman that I had spent weekends with for years when my kids were small.
As time wore on, my grandmother would have stretches where she would suddenly lose herself. We found out later that it was due to the strokes. Each time, she would lose a little more of herself, and wouldn’t be able to recover back to even.
We first moved her to an assisted living facility, where she had her own apartment. The kids and I would go over on Saturday or Sunday, have lunch with her in the dining room and spend the afternoon with her. Because it was an apartment, she still had her own chair, and many of the familiar things that had surrounded her in her own home. It was also easier for us, with things that we could focus on and talk about.
This stretch of time was hard. She was still very aware of her situation and was deeply angry at my grandfather for dying and leaving her. She was angry with her family for taking away the little independence she felt that she had left, even though she could no longer care for herself. She was so angry that at one point, she refused to leave her bed, and threatened to take every pill in her cabinet and kill herself. I was furious. My grandmother, of all people, knew how upsetting any mention of suicide would be to me. Because I had always been so close to her, I sent the kids down to the main lobby, where someone was playing some sort of bingo or something with the other residents. I let my grandmother have it. She eventually did get out of bed, and with some adjustments to antidepressants, she rebounded a bit.
The lucid periods became fewer and lasted for shorter amounts of time. I think that I began to grieve for her long before my grandmother died. It became harder and harder to visit.
Wheelchair bound, and often barely responsive, it was tough to spend time with her. I would take a cue from my mother and take a magazine or a Paris guidebook. She had loved Paris and I would point out places that I knew that she had been, hoping to see some spark of recognition.
Finally, it got too hard. I felt like I was just visiting an unresponsive shell. I know that she still had days where she could recognize loved ones, but I feared the days where she’d revert back to childhood and call out for long dead relatives, or the days when she wouldn’t respond at all.
I am ashamed to say how few times I visited between her birthday in August and when she died. My mother and two of my aunts were there several times a week.
My mother has tried many times to help alleviate my remorse, telling me that I did the best that I could. I had a full-time job, a busy family, things that kept me running; but, I know in my heart that I should have done more. I just hope that my grandmother knew how very much she meant to me, and how much I miss her every day. I know that I need to let myself off of the hook for this, but it’s very hard to give myself a break.