Occasionally my grandmother will wrinkle her nose and wave her rippled hand in front of her face in disgust. You would think this is a common reaction to scratchy bed linens, yellowed window drapes and the sterile metal tray that holds her salisbury steak, instant mashed potatoes and corn that she was supposed to eat for supper that evening. I always assumed it was the catheter and rinsed out bed pan that still held the odor from her morning meal.
But none of these things seemed to bother her. She was aware that this was, unfortunately, to be her life going forward and she accepted the fact that age deterioration pretty much puts you back to square one. It was a hard road for her though. She fought not to use a walker when she was sixty-seven and her hip gave out on her for good. She argued stanchly with the girl at the DMV when they refused to re-new her driver’s license when she was seventy-two. And she gave up and moved to assisted living when we found her watering her front lawn in just her bra and undies, waving at the multiple cars passing by honking. She thought I was my aunt that day, and my father her brother. She told my father over and over what a disgrace my aunt was (elbowing towards me) to her and my grandfather and that they vowed never to speak to her again.
Sundial Homes had two living styles for senior citizens to choose from, hospital room shared with another senior or assisted living on your own. My grandmother was placed in a small apartment like room that resembled a dorm except it had a tiny kitchenette and area for a loveseat and chair. She seemed to like her new home and commented to my invisible grandfather how lovely her china cabinet looked in the in corner next to his recliner. No one was allowed to sit in my grandfather’s recliner because she feared he would be crushed to death. I was nervous leaving her alone talking to my grandfather’s ghost but father reassured me that this was best place for her and the staff would make sure she took her pills, got out to shop and sight see and most importantly, not get hurt.
Assisted living lasted approximately six months. The charge nurse called at 2:00am one night to tell my father that my grandmother snuck out her room and was seated on a barstool in the lobby having a conversation with nobody and was threatening bodily harm to the staff that approached her. Oh, she was also nude from the waist down. They advised him that they subdued her with a shot of Chlorpromazine and that she was now asleep in her bed, but that he would need to come down in the morning to discuss her future arrangements.
Today she clicks away on her bed remote, raising the headrest up and down, looking for the Home Shopping Network on the television and scrunching her nose as if a parade of horses just walked down the hall. I asked if her roommate’s snoring was bothering her. She called me Jen (my name is Claire and no one in our family is Jen or Jennifer) and said that the garden reeked and something rancid was growing where her beautiful tea roses should be. I told her there were no flowers around and maybe if she ate it would help get rid of the stench. Then she told me to leave her alone, that as much as she hated the rotten smell it was something she dealt with now daily; the pruning , re-planting and removing the patch completely will never get rid of the loneliness she felt with my grandfather so far away. She made me promise to plant tulips soon since they will be needed in the weeks ahead.