3.04.2016

Nan and Sugarbeet

There have been many drastic changes in my life in the past 18 months. I have been stretched and pulled in ways I couldn't have imagined before in all ways - spiritually, relationally, physically, and emotionally. One of those ways is in caring for my Nan.

I have written about her in this space before, and many of you have prayed for her over the years. One of my greatest sorrows of infertility was perhaps never taking a photo of 4 generations of women again - growing up, that was one of my favorite things, as the great-granddaughter, to take 4 generation photos with me, my mom, my Nan, and my Big Grandma. I looked forward to doing so with a daughter of my own, even in the times when I didn't think I wanted children, I thought that would be nice. It was something not 2 years ago, I found myself mourning.

Then, Sugarbeet came along, and with her, many 4 generation photos.

Then, in December, just after Christmas, Nan fell. Again. That made 4 falls in less than 6 months. This, on top of memory issues that cannot be ignored combined with a text from my mom saying 'it's time' and I packed up and moved in with Nan until a better solution could be arranged. By some miracle, we visited a retirement community with an assisted living-type of wing and Nan loved it. She put her deposit down and is on the waiting list moving in at the end of the month.

In the meantime, every Wednesday night and every other weekend are spent with Nan. The other times, she has caregivers from an agency with her.

And I'm failing her. I'm failing my Nan each and every time I'm with her. Memory loss and aging (we are still awaiting a formal diagnosis of dementia/Alzheimer's) are no joke. Nor is being the caregiver for one struggling. Kat recently wrote about caring for her mother-in-law and the similarities between care-giving and motherhood, and it was right at the start of my increased time with my Nan before her fall, and I've wanted to write this post ever since. If only to say, no to shout, YES YES YES!

In fact, for me, caregiving has given more experience with the challenges I thought would come with motherhood than actual motherhood has. Waking up in the middle of the night to feed Sugarbeet? Sure, and I'm actually happy to do it. (Which if you know me and my need for sleep is something miraculous.) Having to wait to shower or rework my meals to accommodate someone else's needs? No problem! Giving up "my" time to care for another? Sign me up! I worried so much about my ability to be a good mother, and don't get me wrong, I'm not perfect by any means, but the struggles I anticipated are not the ones I'm facing.

Except that I am, in caring for my Nan.

My head knows that dementia and memory loss are out of her control. That her outbursts are not something she wants to do, nor can control. That no matter how many times I say 'remember...', she will not. And that this is NOT a helpful caregiving strategy. My head knows that I need to hear the same story over and over. That I need to remind, give memory tools, and remind again.

And yet, I fail. I lose my patience. I yell (not so much anymore, but there was one awful night where I really yelled). I cry. I roll my eyes. I take over and do it myself. I forget to appreciate the little things that she does remember (like stocking her fridge with the yogurt I like, or putting tea bags and splenda on the table for dinner). I forget to just enjoy my time with her; to be her granddaughter and let her by my Nan.

I try to learn from each mistake. From each tear, from each rant of frustration. And yet, I find myself just making new mistakes. I give myself a pep talk each drive to her home, reminding myself to see Christ in her, and to be Christ to her. And I fail. And my heart hurts with each failing.

The saving grace is Sugarbeet. She forces me to remember that Nan is still Nan. Sugarbeet loves Nan so sweetly. I often reflect that they 'get' one another because they are both so close to God - Sugarbeet so fresh from Him, and Nan on her way back to Him. And I am gifted with watching them play - a gift I do not deserve because of my failings. A gift I know I will treasure long after Nan has gone Home to Him. And I see the beauty in that. I relish their playing. I relish their shared laughter. In fact for the longest time, Nan was the only one who could make Sugarbeet laugh.

I have faced the struggles of my relationship with my Nan that have occurred over the years. In caring for her, our disagreements have all come rushing back to my memory. We are too much alike, it is true. I see her stubborn and double it. I see her independence and raise it. And so we battle. All I can do is hope that through our battles, she knows I love her and that I want to protect her from harm the same way I want to protect Sugarbeet from harm. Not allowing her to stay alone for long periods of time is much the same as not allowing Sugarbeet to reach out and touch a hot stove - with the only difference being that someday, Sugarbeet will earn the stove is hot and stop reaching out to touch it. For Nan, she will not learn at this point. She may remember some things, some of the time, but she will no longer gain new knowledge and be able to be fully trusted with it.

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I started writing this when I had no end in sight; when the time I'd be responsible for her care was open-ended. But now I do have an end. I have 2 more Wednesdays and 2 more weekends with her at her house. At the house I played in growing up, spent a week at each summer. Where so many holiday memories are contained.

At the end of March, we will move Nan to her new home. It is 6 minutes door to door from my home. She will be cared for. She will have 3 meals a day prepared for her. She will have Bridge games, and crafts, and make new friends. Someone will look out for her. She will still have some independence - not being forced to get up for 8am breakfast (she loves to sleep in - another similarity) and being able to have a coffee pot, refrigerator, and microwave in her apartment.

And maybe, just maybe, I will once again be able to go visit my Nan and just fully be her granddaughter. I will not have to keep her on schedule; fix her checkbook; remind her of what's coming up tomorrow, and this afternoon, and 5 minutes from now. I will be able to visit and enjoy her, just as Sugarbeet does.

And in these remaining 2 weeks of caregiving, I will continue to try to be patient. To not yell. To see her as God sees her, and to be Christ to her. I am sure I will fail. But now, I see light at the end of the tunnel, and perhaps I will not fail quite so badly. Perhaps the knowledge that someday "Nan's house" won't be "Nan's house" anymore will remind me to enjoy these last visits, just as I enjoyed them so much growing up.

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In all of my failings, there is one thing I think I might have done right. I had the idea to capture the time of Nan and Sugarbeet together with a special photo session. The photographer who took Sugarbeet's maternity and newborn photos agreed to come and spend a morning with us, photographing Nan and her great-granddaughter at play.

This morning, just 2 months ago. These photos. Perhaps they are proof that I am not failing as completely as it feels like at the end of long day.

(The link to the photos is a blog post written by the wonderful photographer who has become like family as she has documented my pregnancy with Sugarbeet and her first days of life on the outside.)

And so many candid shots that I've taken. To remind me that this woman, my Nan, loves deeply and bears the burden of her aging more than I could ever bear it for her. Photos taken, that someday will heal a sad heart that says goodbye and will remind me of good moments among these days when I am tempted to only remember the details of my failings.

Our most recent 4 Generations Picture - please ignore my cheesy smile, Sugarbeet's face, and Nan's lack of camera-looking. It's hard to get everyone to cooperate these days :). At least my mom looks good, as it was her birthday.
With Nan and Nan's sister, my (Rebecca's) godmother.
Helping Nan read the paper.
Out to lunch!
People watching at Starbucks.
Playing together at home.

5 comments:

  1. What a sweet bond! Both you and your Nan, and hers with Sugarbeet! Which is not to say that it's easy. I have worked with many people who are losing themselves in the midst of dementia and Alzheimer's. I know that's nothing like experiencing it with your family, but all you can do is to keep trying. Wow! I'm really not helpful, am I? Well, at least know I'll be praying for you all as yo make that transition!

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  2. Beautiful pics of your Nan and little! Dementia and aging are soooooo difficult. You are doing a great job!

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  3. I can relate so much to this post. Caring for a loved one is so hard and sanctifying. We do not have to do it perfectly, it really is just about showing up and being willing. Prayers for your Nan as she and you all make the transition. Soak up this special bond with her, for it truly is a gift.

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  4. So glad that you have a move in date for your Nan!

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  5. Oh, Rebecca! Once again, your post left me with tears in my eyes. I've been thinking about you and just had the chance to come & catch up with what's been going on in your life.
    You're HUMAN. Before my mom passed away (in fact, the night just before she unexpectedly passed), I would talk to her on the phone and roll my eyes. The last time I spoke to her, she said she didn't feel well, and when I asked her what was wrong, she said she didn't know. I rolled my eyes and thought, "does she not even know what's wrong?" Dementia is a very nasty thing. Only a saint wouldn't get impatient, and I have my doubts that even Blessed Teresa didn't have those seconds of being impatient. We reconcile, say a quick prayer, and move on.
    Those pictures! <3 them!!! What a sweet treasure you'll always have! :)

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