My grandpa was in the emergency room yesterday with complications associated with his hernia. For hours we sat and waited for the necessary tests to see if emergency surgery would be done on this sweet old man and let me tell you, hours in an emergency room with a man that suffers from dementia is far, far too long.
Growing up I spent most weekends at my grandparent’s house and for a while we even lived across the street. On the nights I would stay with them my grandma, grandpa and I would typically stop by the fruit stand and buy tomatoes, cucumbers and the seeds to make air popped popcorn. After buying the essentials, we would stop by the video store, pick up the VHS de jour and then retire to their house where my grandpa would pop me all the popcorn a small child could stand.
He was the strong, silent type. His uniform was that of structured Levi jeans, boots and long sleeve, button up shirts. In his wallet was always $200.00 in cash, you know, just in case. While he wasn’t one for lengthy conversation it was always very well known that he deeply loved us just in his actions. He made coffee every morning for us and made sure my bedroom door was open at night so I could see him in his recliner if I needed anything. He was my grandma’s bickering partner, which I later associated with them being in love. More than anything, he was strong.
Dementia is a thief of strength. The man that once took care of all of us now fears being alone, fears the dark, and is frustrated by the smallest changes in his environment. He makes the same phone call 10 times in a row because he forgot that he has already called. My grandpa worries. It is so saddening to see the man that used to hold it all together feel so helpless.
There are still signs of the man I knew in my youth. Every week when they go to the grocery store he buys me a People magazine. While I receive the magazine at work, it is such a touching symbol of him trying to take care of me after all of this time. Every time I cut his hair in the kitchen he gently asks me if I have gotten married yet. I always promise him that he will be the first to know if that day comes. He still makes coffee for my grandma and sets out her medication. There are still pieces of his mind that are the same as they have always been and that is what I cling to.
One day we will lose my grandpa. It won’t be the day he dies, unfortunately, it will be sooner than that. I will lose my grandpa the day he loses the man deep inside, it will be the day his mind lets go of the man he was. Until that day I try desperately to cling to the little bits of him that remain the same and try to be patient when he drives me batty (oh, it happens!). I will be there for him and repeat the answers to his questions as many times as he asks them, because I am sure that when I was a repetitive small child, he answered mine. I will take those old People magazines with a gracious smile because it isn’t the gift, it is the man giving it that I love.