Posted by: GeekHiker | January 17, 2009

Slipping Away

(Last holiday post, and the hardest to write. Good thing I’m going out of town this weekend. Sorry, Homer-Dog, I know it’s not the “up” post you wanted, but life’s like that sometimes…)

When my Parents picked me up at the train station on my return from SF, my Uncle was in the backseat as well. They had just come from visiting Grandma and taking her to an appointment with a psychologist.

After having lunch in Old Sacramento, we headed down to the home where she’s currently living and being cared for.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Turns out that in this situation you never know quite what to expect from one moment to the next.

We walked up and rang the doorbell. The care facility is in a private home in an otherwise completely normal looking suburban tract neighborhood. Except that the front door is alarmed just in case any of the residents attempt to wander off.

Grandma remembered me.

She commented that I’d gained weight. I didn’t take it personally. I realized long ago that grandparents remember you when you were at your scrawniest (my 120 lbs in high school) and comment that you’ve gained weight ever since then.

She looked older to me. I mean, she’s 95, and I can’t say for certain that she looks, visually, any different than the last time I saw her. But she looked older.

Talking to her is, well, an interesting experience.

She shifts rapidly from one mental state to the next. One minute she’ll be conversing with you normally, every part of the conversation making sense. Two minutes later she’ll be talking about something that seems to be out of left field, either because she just can’t figure out the right words or because her thoughts are jumbled. A couple of minutes after that you’ll be talking with her and the eyes are vacant, a blank stare. It’s like she’s just not there.

The hard part is that she slides between these states and all the little in-between states without warning, and with incredible rapidity. You never know what’s coming from one minute to the next. Neither does she, I suppose.

When we first walked in she was sitting in the living room, convinced we had come back to have lunch with her. A few minutes later, she was convinced that we weren’t coming back to have lunch. Then we were going to take her out to lunch. Then we weren’t coming back at all.

Interestingly, her memories from decades ago are razor-sharp. Anything in the last few months is fuzzy.

Of course, she’d also been talking to people who passed away years ago, though the meds seem to have helped with that aspect, at least. The meds are helping Grandma a bit, but I don’t think that they’ll ever come up with a formulation that quite works.

She gets frustrated by things, so much so that she fights and it disturbs the other residents. She’s grown paranoid, too. She’d always had a streak of it in her, but is now convinced that there are cameras everywhere and people are listening to our conversations. As to who and for what purpose, I’m not entirely sure.

It’s hard on my Mom. Originally we were going to see her the day I headed back to LA, but we decided that seeing her when I got back from SF was the best plan. I didn’t particularly want the experience to be my last memory from my holiday trip for 2008, and Mom admitted that seeing Grandma then sending me back on the road immediately afterward might have been too much for her.

I have no idea if that’s the last time I will see her. Time may be short, or she may be able to last a long time. There’s no way of knowing.

Still, the cute little white-haired Grandma of my youth has slipped away, even though she was right there in front of me.

I wish I knew what to say about that. Some deep pontification, some huge emotional outpouring, some astute philosophy.

But I don’t.

Words just don’t seem to be enough.



  1. I totally understand.

  2. Having been through that with my mom, I understand all too well. What got to me was my mom looking at her hands, wondering who’s old hands they were. Hugs to you bud!

  3. “she’d also been talking to people who passed away years ago”

    As older folks become senile and seemingly being to talk to people who are long deceased… I often have to wonder, what if they really are talking to dead people?

  4. I think Ms. H said it right, I totally understand. I’ve been there with a grandpa instead of a grandma.

  5. that’s such a tough situation. there’s no need to explain or analyze – your description is enough to make us feel it. i’m sending you a big virtual hug.

  6. Just reading this brought tears to my eyes, as I remembered going through this with my Grandma when I was younger.

    My mom’s Mom stopped remembering who I was when I was about 12 or so. It tore me up inside knowing that I’d come to see her and she’d have no idea who I was. It was even harder for me to see my mom go through it, to see the days when my Grandma couldn’t even remember her own daughter!

    You’re right when you said “I have no idea if that’s the last time I may see her. Time may be short or she may be able to last a long time.”

    My Nana (whom I’ve written about – and I think even mentioned to you – quite a bit) had skin cancer removed in Aug. 2003. My mom called me on Halloween of that year to prepare me for the worst. She passed away in Nov. 2003 at 90.

    I had no idea that when I visited with her on that August afternoon that it’d be the last time I would hold her hand, hear her voice, and see her smile.

    Even thinking about it now, five years later, makes it really, really hard not to break down and sob.

    Be thankful you had this time, my friend, for it is incredibly precious.

  7. I took the cowardly way out. My Grandfather – a wonderful man – developed alhzeimers. I used the fact that I lived in California and he in Iowa to avoid witnessing his decline. I even avoided his funeral. I guess I want to keep the old man’s memories untainted. I now regret that decision. I never really said goodbye.

    You did the right thing. I understand but I will never really know what you are going through.

    Stay strong, my friend.

  8. I found the weirdest thing was never knowing if he was joking around or not. He was a jokester and when he would look at us and say “I guess you’re here to take me home then?” we’d smile and laugh and say “oh, pipe, you’re so silly, you’re not going home.” only to realize he actually thought we might be there to take him “home”.

    My nan, on the other hand, was completely “with it” right up till the day she died. She was in a care home but I was there the night before, went to wash her hair, blow dry it and curl it for her (she loved feeling a little more “decent”). We chatted, she sat like at a salon and knew everyone would comment on it when it was done and LOVED that. She had her shit together up there. Then the next day, enough was enough and she slipped away.

    Its always weird. Its always hard. Its always strange. To watch the decline is harder than to have the sudden goodbye. Both are expected but one is remarkably tougher to deal with. I suspect you are feeling the pain of the first one.

    Strength and calm thoughts are coming your way friend.

  9. Oh Hiker, I know God will bless you and your family with the strength you need to deal with this.

    Though I must say, I am thrilled that she recognized you, I think that was a great blessing 🙂

  10. This must be so difficult for you. When my grandmother was in the end stages of cancer I drove down from Boston every weekend for months to be with her. It was exhausting but well worth it to have that time with her. We were lucky that she didn’t experience dementia but that didn’t make saying goodbye any easier.

    I am thinking of you and yours at this time and I am so glad that she recognized you and you’ve had this time together.

  11. You are a pretty good grandson even if you are getting fat and letting yourself slide; I say that in jest, because my great-grandma did the same thing to me all of the time. She would sit out on the patio at the nursing home smoking her long old cigarettes (back in the day when they still let residents smoke) and tell all of us that we were just falling apart right and left. Funny, it never made me mad save once when I was 8 months pregnant; go figure. It is hard to see them like this, though, I know, and you are right; there are no right words.

  12. It’s a weird, strange experience seeing those who were so ‘big’ in our lives become so small and frail.


  13. I’ve never had to experience this yet, but I can imagine that your logical head and broken heart are in a bit of battle. All you can ever do for people, sick or not, is be there.

    Hang in there, love!

  14. I went through this with my Grandma. It’s really hard when you remember them one way and suddenly they’re a mess of confusion. When my Grandma was in the hospital at one point I remember her saying to me, “I think one of the most beautiful places to visit would be a fried egg on toast.” I laughed as my heart broke.

    I know it’s hard to get up there to see her, but if you can make it happen, try. I don’t regret a minute I spent with my Grandma during her last months here – even when it was so hard to see her and she was so far gone. Every moment counts.

  15. Words are failing me here too. I want to say I understand the myriad thoughts all complex and nonhomogenous wreaking havoc on the brain and heart, how this makes one contemplate mortality and relationships in a way that is so intense and awkward that it’s painful. But I don’t really know how to say it all… so I will say thank you for the post, for making me think & remember, and hang in there…

  16. I can’t decide if it’s worse for the mind to go first or the body.

    One of my favourite family friends is razor sharp, highly educated, lovely to talk to and so upbeat. She’s a septuagenarian. The last I heard, her spine was collapsing and she couldn’t stand. But to talk to her on the phone, you would never know she was not 100%. It’s heartbreaking.

    My dad turned 69 this year and I started to notice the first signs of short-term memory loss, loss of hearing and general belligerent behaviour. He is physically very fit though. It’s frustrating.

    I’m glad I’m not 20-something anymore and I’m ready to retire but I don’t know what I’ll do when it’s my parent’s turn.

  17. Ms. H – Thanks.

    Dobegil – That must have been rough; my sympathies

    Aaron – An interesting theory…

    Cripkitty – I suppose everyone has, at one time or another…

    BlakSpring – Thanks, I appreciate it

    EastCoastTeacher – Thanks for sharing your experience

    Homer-Dog – I understand completely. Don’t beat yourself up too much, my friend.

    BackPackerMomma – It is strange, not knowing where they’re at from moment to moment, isn’t it?

    Narami – Thank you for your kind words.

    Dingo – I do. The memories are quite strong and it’s been a good run. After all, I’m 35!

    Kori – I think all grandparents do that sort of thing!

    JustAGirl – Heh, that made me chuckle, actually. Grandma’s always been significantly under 5 feet, so she was always “small”!

    TheCoconutDiaries – I don’t know that I’ve had any internal conflict. If anything, the logical side of the situation helps with the emotional side.

    MelHeth – Don’t know when I’ll be back up, actually…

    Spleeness – Don’t worry, even if no words come to mind, your thoughts are what counts. 🙂

    MrsChuckBartowski – Sorry to hear about your Dad. Are there any meds that might help?

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