Today I visited my Grandmother. She is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s so unlike most other visits we found ourselves visiting in a hospital, on the Geriatric floor, the floor where patients are assessed and stay if diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and/or Dementia. Then they wait for doctors, care workers and families to figure out which facility they will go to, possibly their last home. Heavy stuff.

We did have one previous visit to a hospital after she had a serious fall and broke her hip. At that time, however, she was her normal spirited stubborn self which was good. She recovered quickly and went on for a few more years happily independent. However in these last couple of years with each visit my little family of four made, we saw a decline. Made easier by our geographical distance. Not seeing someone regularly gives you a clearer view, I think. Just like in the reverse, our family sees bigger changes in our children than we sometimes do. Her decline was also hard to notice because she has kept herself isolated far off in the countryside nowhere near family, thus making dropping in during the busyness of daily life difficult. This isolation was a big contributer to her decline. We are social creatures needing connection and stimulation to stay vital. Independence is a beautiful thing but that does not equal being alone consistently.

So today I found the same frail grandmother I have been seeing for awhile now. Scared, repeating certain parts of our conversation not remembering others, slow and unstable on her feet but smiles and jokes were still there which was good to see. Humour is great medicine. She understands her days of living how and where she would like to are over. She is not happy about this of course as we all will be if this is the road life takes us on. She also took some responsibility by acknowledging her self imposed isolation and not taking care of herself very well had likely contributed to where she finds herself now. Her diet, she explained, had become simple, easy but not balanced. Tea and toasted cheese sandwiches can’t be regular meals for anyone. Then conversation shifted to how she was enjoying the other patients conversations and company, the games and activities, and all the staff. It also went to her saying didn’t want to move again, disappointment but acknowledgement that she will not be able to take everything with her in this next move, how will she decide what to take and what not to, to other stressful realizations and decisions yet to be made. She delighted in my youngest daughter’s stories with her signature lively delivery. She simply enjoyed our company. Conversation also went to a high school date she had a very long time ago, she even got a little cheeky in her story telling which is not something normal for her. Alzheimer’s is quite something as I understand this is a common thing, the present goes but the past stays and can be very vivid.

Today I was happy to see much less resistance in her. She seemed resigned to what the future will be though I am sure there is still some fight still in her! Life’s transitions are rarely easy espically ones of this magnitude.

The transition to good bye was full of tears, hugs and I love you’s. Hard yes, but also a beautifully powerful one  … who knows what the future visits will be like and how many we will get was going through my mind and likely hers too.