“Grandma is sleeping.” “Grandma is angry.” “Grandma is sad.”
Throughout yesterday, my three-year-old son seemed obsessed with my mother-in-law. He would tip-toe up to her, lean in, touch her arm gently and then report his findings to me–even though I was in the same room with them both.
This was unusual. On most days, he stays clear of Grandma–as if he fears her, but then, he helps her, too. When I wheel her back into her bathroom, he runs ahead of me opening doors. He’s the first to notice when her sock slips from her foot and he is quick to retrieve it. Still, he isn’t one to get too close to her and he limits his direct interaction with her. For all of his memory, Grandma has been someone in need of care and someone he helped from a safe distance.
He wasn’t the only one behaving unusually yesterday. Deep sigh. Grandma was different. Frequently, she has days in which she eats and says very little, but yesterday, she was out of it—even for her. She slept especially late and was difficult to wake. Once we had her up, she refused to eat even with us feeding her. She just stared blankly and instead of nodding off into a gentle nap the way so many older people do, she was falling into deep, deep sleeps that caused her to slouch forward in her chair. We are going to need to strap her in. When her eyes were open, she wasn’t just stone-faced. She was vacant. How my son concluded that she was “sad” or “angry,” I don’t know.
Physically, however, her vitals were good. Her blood sugar and blood pressure were all within the range of normal. Her breathing was regular. She didn’t have a fever. We didn’t rush her to the hospital, but we are making an appointment for her to see her doctor—that is, unless something drastic changes today.
Last week, I told my husband that back in May, I had mentally predicted that his mother wouldn’t make it through the summer. She had been hospitalized twice in rapid succession and a doctor had referred us to Hospice. Now, however, I had changed my mind. Perhaps there was no beginning of the end and she would live for years.
In the past week, she had been somewhat lucid. She was eating more and talking more. I saw definite signs of improvement, but I advised myself against feeling hopeful. “A good day now doesn’t mean she’ll have a good day tomorrow. A bad day now doesn’t mean she’ll die tomorrow,” I told him. “I’m finally realizing this.”
But then, yesterday happened, and I found myself repeating, “This means nothing.”
The human body and spirit are blessed with a regenerative quality. Decline isn’t always steady for either. A person’s health can take a turn for the worse, but then, suddenly take a turn for the better. It won’t be until she dies that we will be able to say, “Oh, that Tuesday before, I knew we were at the beginning of the end” or even “That last infection. That is what finally did her in.” It’ll all be after the fact. Hindsight. For all of us.
The real challenge is treating a person as they are fully alive for as long as they are living.