Hooray for hospice

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Nobody knows what the future holds. But for now, hospice is making life infinitely better for Grandma and me.

More than once this year, Grandma has mentioned how lonely she is. She’s lost the ability to read or write emails; even the phone confuses her now. When friends send her a card and I read it to her, she has no idea who sent it.

Now that I work from home to care for Grandma, I feel sort of isolated too. More than once I’ve tallied my daily conversations and discovered I talked to more cats than people. Of course I can walk or drive anywhere I want. But during the work week my best bet is starting a conversation with the Meals on Wheels delivery guy. I know if I bring up KU basketball I can corner him for at least a few minutes.

Luckily for Grandma and me, I finally made progress in my search for caregiving assistance. Because she has a qualifying diagnosis (in her case congestive heart failure with a really long technical medical name I can’t remember), Grandma is eligible for hospice care. With weekly visits from a nurse and a bath aid — plus regular stop-ins from a social worker and clergywoman, Grandma has visitors to look forward to. And even if they’re not here every day, I no longer feel like I’m bearing this burden alone.

Prior to this, my only experience with hospice was when Grandpa died. There was a hospice house in Topeka, and he went there a few weeks before his death. They kept him as comfortable as they could and were very accommodating about visitors at all hours. They couldn’t save his life, but they helped make his final days bearable.

This time around is much different. As I mentioned the hospice employees come to us, which has reduced the number of doctor visits I have to arrange. They provided a hospital bed that we managed to convince Grandma to start sleeping in instead of the ratty old recliner she’s had for years. Her bath aid gives her weekly showers so I no longer have to cajole her into bathing. The nurse even gets her prescriptions delivered. These things may seem trivial, but when you combine them they have made life much easier for me and more pleasant for Grandma too.

Of course my first thought when I realized how great home-based hospice is was that it couldn’t last. The news is deluged with scare stories of Medicare cuts and death panels, so you wouldn’t think something as wonderful as hospice could ever dodge the funding axe. But so far it has. And because Grandma’s diagnosis is for a chronic condition, she’ll be eligible for help for the remainder of her life. I resisted the urge to hug the nurse when she told me this, but only just.

Hospice cannot stop Grandma’s downward dementia spiral. Hiding leftovers in the filing cabinet … stories of being trapped in a non-existent crawl space … accusing me of feeding her table scraps … these are just a few recent highlights of her current mental state. Likewise, hospice cannot reverse Grandma’s heart failure. Her heart is slowly but surely wearing out.

But hospice has reduced the need to take her out of the house, which is a big plus during flu season. And they provide companionship from people who haven’t heard her stories a million times. Most importantly, they enable me to keep her at home a little longer, which is where she wants to be. Here’s hoping I can continue to manage her care with hospice’s help — and that Medicare continues to provide this invaluable albeit somewhat obscure benefit.

Out of sight, out of mind

This lamp is not only heavy and hideous, it could be a fire hazard. I can't in good conscious donate it to Savers, can I?

This lamp is not only heavy and hideous, it could be a fire hazard. I can’t in good conscious donate it to Savers, can I?

This post was inspired by the WordPress Daily Prompt.

Is there junk in my life? Oh hell yes! I have a basement full of old, broken, unused crap. But guess what? It’s not mine.

I suppose the ethical question is do I let it keep gathering dust until Grandma passes? Or do I start getting rid of stuff now? Her advancing dementia and the countdown to my daughter’s May high school graduation have convinced me to tackle the problem now. There are boxes Grandma insisted she had to have that I moved up here only to remain taped up seven years later; there’s an entire room she never goes in.  You can’t miss something you don’t know you have, but you can tackle getting an entire house in shape for a pending move in phases. I christen phase one Jettisoning Grandma’s Junk.

The ceramic owl lamp that weighs at least 30 pounds and flickers so excessively Grandma insisted it be unplugged before it started a fire: Gone.

The two enormous antique bookshelves full of dusty old westerns and romances that were probably read sometime in the ’70s: Outta here.

The nine unopened mystery boxes that could contain some priceless family heirlooms but in reality only hold more bizarre junk that Grandma couldn’t part with but has no practical purpose: Adios.

If I’m honest with myself, I know it’s not only Grandma who has junk lying around. When I moved here after my divorce seven years ago, I vowed to stay downsized. But little by little, crap snuck in. I have an office full of desks and computers my children and I abandoned for laptops at the kitchen table. I have electronics that are probably worth something on Craig’s List, but the thought of shady people calling me looking for components for their “projects” kind of creeps me out. I have a living room full of furniture we sit on approximately 3 times a year.

I read the other day the floating island of trash in the Pacific Ocean is now twice the size of France. Facts like that make me reaffirm my pledge to live simply. But what do I do with the junk I already have? Maybe I’ll haul it around for another 40 years and let my kids sort it out. Nah, seeing Grandma to the finish line has made me aware of many things, but most important among them is do what you can to minimize the burden you put on your family. My kids might not be as accommodating as me. :-)

I’m my family’s matriarch-in-waiting

me_queenThis post was inspired by the WordPress Daily Prompt.

Prince Charles and I have a lot in common. We’re both waiting to take the reigns of our family dynasties. Oh sure, my responsibilities are smaller scale, but I don’t have a palace full of help either.

This is a just an example of my to-do list:

Laying the Queen Grandma to rest

There won’t be any foreign dignitaries and it won’t be televised, but I will be in charge of Grandma’s funeral. Her friends should have an opportunity to pay their last respects, but she’s already outlived most of them. If nothing else I’ll make green bean casserole (Grandma’s favorite dish) and we’ll play Stairway to Heaven full blast for as long as it takes to drink several bottles of Sauvignon Blanc.

Perfecting my wave

Kansas folks are friendly! Although we’re more likely to nod than wave to people we pass on the road. That’s probably because none of those old country trucks had power steering back in the day. Well we have modern cars now so it’s time we updated that.

Proclaiming official gathering places

Wherever the royal family vacations, a flag is raised at the castle. I assume the matriarch makes the call on where this will be. We will keep our festivities on the down low to avoid the paparazzi, but I will insist on the MU flag coming down whenever we meet at my oldest daughter’s house. Only the KU Jayhawk may announce our presence.

Preserving my family’s collective knowledge

There are entire museum wings devoted to Charles’ lineage, blood lines, etc. My Mom only filled in a few names in the illustrated family tree in my baby book. If I don’t do a good job, my grandchildren will never know about their great-great cross-dressing Grandpa and other colorful characters in our family’s history. I guess this blog is a good start. Thank god I’m writing it when I’m young enough future generations won’t doubt my sanity.

Ensuring my legacy

This is a tough one — how do I want future generations to remember me? I’m average height so Samantha Longshanks is out … For the time being I’m mentally stable so Mad Sam won’t work either. I still have some time to work on this one. If I depart unexpectedly I guess there are worse things to be remembered for than a plethora of cats and the awesomest music collection any woman ever amassed. Rock Goddess Samantha. I kinda like the sound of that.

Image credit: neftali77 / 123RF Stock Photo and anelina / 123RF Stock Photo

Someone’s up to no good? Must be They.

Why does They torment Grandma?

Damn you They! Pick on someone your own age!

House spirits come in many forms. Sometimes they’re just a nuisance, like the sock monster. Other times they’re playful, like I Dunno and Not Me in the Family Circus comic. Occasionally they’re sinister, like the ones on ghost hunter shows who throw rocks and chant the names of those they murdered.

The spirit living in our house is exceptionally evil, because it only torments one person — Grandma. It goes by the name of They.

They takes Grandma’s pens. It steals her cookies. It even makes her bathe! And just this week, They mysteriously cut the August and September pages off Grandma’s beloved kitten calendar. It’s the only thing she asks for every Christmas, so why on Earth would she deface it? It had to be They.

Grandma thinks I’m in cahoots with They. Why else would she says things to me like “I sure wish They would bring my flashlight back.”  Actually, I think she believes I am They — she just doesn’t want to flat out accuse me of stealing her things and damaging her prized possessions.

Up til now I’ve chalked up They’s shenanigans to good old fashioned forgetfulness on Grandma’s part. But the latest incident has me puzzled too. Did I sleepwalk down there and  delete 1/6 of that old woman’s year? I’ve heard of people doing weird things when they take prescription Ambien, but I’ve never woken up with scissors in my hand. And besides, I’m out right now anyway. So for the time being I’m pretty sure I’m not They.

I’m on alert for They’s next prank. There’s no stove to leave on downstairs so I don’t think it can cause serious trouble, but there are two phones, and I’m guessing They can dial 911 if there’s an emergency — like no bananas or the TV won’t shut off. You don’t think that could happen? Well obviously you’ve never lived with They.

Image credit: kurashov / 123RF Stock Photo

Girl wins boy, loses boy, marries cross dresser

Grandpa, why do you like to dress up like a girl?
I look suspicious; wouldn’t you if you weren’t sure whether Grandpa had a thong on underneath his suit?

No this is not a World News headline. It’s the story of Grandma and my biological grandfather.

I was already thinking about telling it when I read Remembrance and remembering, one woman’s loving tribute to her father and stepmother. The following is not a story I’ll share at Grandma’s funeral, but it’s too good not to tell someone.

First some background: Grandma and Grandpa (not the guy in the picture) met in 1939 and married the following year. Everything was going great until World War II broke out and he left Grandma behind to serve at Fort Hood in Texas. Grandpa’s heart murmur kept him stateside, but they were still apart.

Being the industrious woman she was, Grandma decided she’d go back and finish high school since nobody would hire her without a diploma. Since she was married, she had to threaten to write a letter to the local paper about how the town’s school wouldn’t let a serviceman’s wife finish her education before they let her enroll. Once she was in, she got good grades and held a part-time job, dreaming of the day her sweetheart would come back and they could pick up where they left off.

What happened next was really sad:

When I told him I had gone back to school he was really not happy. At that time in his life he was very controlling and told me what I could do and what I could not do. I said well I wanted to come down to Texas but you told me there were so many Army wives in Mineral Wells there was no place to live and you did not want me living in Ft. Worth or working there. We had a big argument but I stood my ground and he went back to Texas.

The argument continued by mail, and a few months later Grandma was served with emergency divorce papers. Mad and hurt, she gave Grandpa his divorce.

By May 1945 Grandma had finished school and moved to Topeka to take a civil service job. One day when she was eating lunch at the dime store near work she ran into Lawrence Johnson, a man she’d met the year before when she waited tables at her parents’ cafe. He remembered Grandma and started chatting her up — asking whether she lived in Topeka now and if she’d ever gotten her divorce.

Heartbroken and alone in a strange city, it’s not surprising Grandma started going for drives and attending church with Lawrence. Before she knew it he’d asked her to marry him. She told him she still loved Grandpa but he told her she’d learn to love him. He had a job, a house and a car, which — back in 1945 when men were still scarce due to the war — made him a pretty good catch. In her life story she skims over accepting his proposal and their wedding and fast forwards to my Mom being born in November 1946.

Through frequent moves and job changes, for several years Grandma made the best out of a bad situation. But little by little the truth about Lawrence leaked out …

First Grandma learned he was adopted, which made her furious. Next she learned he hadn’t really been sent home because he was injured in the war but because he was “unfit for association with other men.” Then one day while collecting his dirty laundry (no pun intended), she found a woman’s bra and panties in the mix. When she confronted him, he lied and told her they were hers. When she got up the courage to ask one of his coworkers why they never bunked with him on out-of-town trips, he dropped the bomb: Lawrence dressed in drag and went out whenever he was away on business. From that point on she started planning how to get out of the awful marriage to the man she never loved to begin with.

Several more years went by, because it was 1961 before Grandma finally filed for divorce. Throughout the 15 years they were apart, Grandma kept in touch with Grandpa’s mom through letters. When Grandma wrote to her of her divorce, Grandpa’s mom passed that information along to him. He too was unhappily married and heading for divorce, and for once fate did them a favor. He wrapped up his loose ends in Western Kansas and headed for Topeka with nothing to his name. Grandma let him stay in her spare bedroom and laid the ground rules for their second-chance romance. Grandpa agreed to everything, and they remarried in August 1962.

By the time I came along at the end of 1964, Lawrence was barely a footnote. The picture above is the only one I have of him; he slunk off to live somewhere else shortly after it was taken. I adored Grandpa. He was the only one I ever really knew, and I was the only child he ever really helped raise. I can’t imagine what cross-dressing Grandpa Larry would have been like, but I don’t think he would have chased me with his dentures out, or let me hang out with him in his workshop, or taught me the song about the goat who ate the shirts off the line or called me his sweet girl. Luckily, I never had to find out, and Grandma never had to worry again about finding lingerie in the laundry basket that wasn’t hers.

Image credit: zhanna / 123RF Stock Photo

Cage the radicals and dial back the crazy

Free radicals have already taken their toll on Grandma's brain. But I need to find help before she takes an irrevocable toll on my sanity.

Free radicals have already taken their toll on Grandma’s brain. And I need to find help before she irrevocably impairs my sanity.

My mother committed my father when I was two. She took her life when I was 22. So when I made it to my 40s with a mere case of manageable depression, I thought I’d dodged the bullet.

But seven years down the caregiving road, I’m not so sure.

Lately I’ve been agitated a lot. I’ve been thinking illogically. Maybe even deteriorating intellectually. If I were one of those people who reads a series of symptoms then self diagnoses, I’d say I’m schizophrenic. But I know I’m not. My grandma is figuratively driving me crazy.

Over the weekend she announced she needed to go to the doctor for reasons I won’t elaborate on. (Let’s just say they are in no way life threatening.) So yesterday morning I dutifully called and made an appointment. When the receptionist told me they could see her at 1:30, my teeth clenched. I couldn’t get a driver that fast, and I was buried in work. But Grandma was downstairs throwing herself a pity party so I made the appointment. As I hung up the rest of the day flashed before my eyes. I took a deep breath then headed down to get her moving. I was agitated before I made it to the bottom stair.

The doctor visit kicked off with a shower, which Grandma had refused all weekend. Part of me said “it’s only 10:00 — this is not going to take three hours.” But the other part said “give yourself a break in between.” Once the ordeal was over and she was dried off and half-dressed, I told her I’d be back down when it was time to go. Then I rushed back upstairs to get as much work done as I could before phase two.

Of course Grandma called me an hour and a half before we left asking if it was time to go yet. And to tell me she’d have to have help getting her walker upstairs. And to ask me how far away the doctor was. I might as well have answered “we’ll leave for the pumpkin patch at Halloween o’ clock with the wheelbarrow.” But I still tried to make her understand. Finally I said, “I’ll come get you when it’s time to go” and hung up.

I tried to refocus on work, but before I could I’d jumped up and grabbed the blueberries out of the fridge. “Take that free radicals. Don’t have time for lunch. Are blueberries really going to keep me from turning into her? How late will I have to work to make up for this appointment?” Anybody listening would seriously doubt my ability to think coherently.

Guess what happened at the doctor’s office …