Sunday, March 4, 2012
My grandfather is dying. He has stage IV cancer. It began as melanoma and has now spread to his bone marrow. We (my family and I), found out a little over a month ago. Grandpa found out when had back surgery to fix some cracked vertebrae a few months ago and they discovered it. I guess he needed time to process it and decide how to tell everyone. Grandpa hurt his back last fall while cutting up part of a tree, and he was getting progressively worse right before our eyes. I turns out that most of the pain has been caused by the cancer in his bone. It may have even caused the initial injury. We knew he was in a LOT of pain, but none of us realized how much.
My grandpa has always stayed very busy, and he gets bored easily. He is also very impatient. This meant lots of going and doing. He taught a Sunday school class, drove a bus for both the Ronald McDonald House and his church, went out to eat almost every day, and visited with friends quite a lot. He also took short road trips just for something to do. This man never sat still for very long. I know I realized how much pain he was in when he started asking my son to get things for him instead of literally hopping up to go get them as he always had. He hates asking for help and hates not being able to do things himself so I knew it was bad.
He was sleeping more and doing less. And he was losing weight like crazy. He hasn't been eating well in the past few years anyway, but just the past few months, he has been looking gaunt. I remember a conversation that my mother and I had a few weeks before he told us about the cancer. We discussed how we thought maybe something else was wrong with him because his behavior had changed so drastically and how we really hoped his back surgery was going to be successful because he was obviously in so much pain that he couldn't just continue that way much longer. Obviously we were noticing the effects that the cancer has already been having on him.
There is an important part of this story that I have left out. My grandmother, (his wife), has Alzheimer's. She has had it for a long time. When I was in high school, she was pretty forgetful, but she rarely had really bad days. A bad day consisted of things like her forgetting where she put her glasses and freaking out because she couldn't see and didn't know what to do. A few years after I got married and moved out, she got worse.
All of a sudden, bad days meant she would be driving and would completely forget not only where she was going, but also how to get back. She started doing things that made NO sense, and she got upset easily about little things. Still, it wasn't so bad, but it was undeniable that she was getting worse. She could not drive anymore, and she could no longer be left home alone, not even for ten minutes. She would forget where my grandfather was and start calling everyone to see if he was ok. This severely limited what he could and could not do, and at first it was a hard adjustment for him. All of a sudden, she went everywhere with him. Always. But my grandpa has always bent over backwards for everyone, and he took care of her the best way he knew how.
In the past 8 or so years, she has gotten worse quicker than any of us expected. She was to the point where she would repeat a question once about every five minutes at first, and now it's about every 30 seconds or so. I remember vividly the first time she obviously had no idea who I was. I was over at their house with my son who is now 8. He was about 2 at the time. She asked how I knew him, and my grandfather asked if she knew who I was. She answered that of course she did, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it right that second. My heart sank. I think that was a turning point. Since then, we have all come to accept that she has no idea who any of us are at any given moment, but it doesn't faze me anymore.
I know some Alzheimer's patients think that everyone is someone they knew in their past, and I suspect that sometimes my grandma is the same way, but usually she just seems to think she is visiting distant relatives or friends. She asks quite often, "Shouldn't we head home soon?", even though she is at her own house. The other day, Grandma was looking at a picture of her and my grandfather together and she had no idea that it was HER! She thought it was my great grandpa and she was asking who the woman was. She really has no idea who my grandfather is anymore.
All of a sudden in the past two weeks, she has started falling over while walking, and passing out randomly while doing things like going to the bathroom. It's pretty scary. Even when she didn't know who anyone around her was, or where she was, she was pretty good at making conversation, even if it was the same thing over and over. Now, she just kind of sits quietly and only talks if asked a direct question. And sometimes, not even then. She seems to be in another world. She also has no ability to do things for herself anymore, like going to the bathroom or getting dressed, or eating. It makes me worry. I don't know the stages of Alzheimer's very well, but I know that she is little more independent than my 1 yr old daughter. I can't fathom how much worse it will be before she is bedridden.
This is all very hard to watch. I tried to move in with them so that I could help take care of them but I think God intervened. I have an 8 yr old little boy that I homeschool, and an energetic 14 month old, and they are quite a handful. I don't think I would have been able to properly care for them and my grandparents at the same time. Especially since my grandma has gotten so much worse recently. Thankfully my sister, who is a cna and worked in a nursing home, has moved in with them to help. She is so good with them, and it is such a blessing.
I have seen my grandparents at least once a week since I moved out and got married. They have seen my children grow up from each of their very first days, and have always been a major part of our lives. I cannot even imagine what life will be like without them. I know my grandma doesn't actually remember them and know who we are, but they know who she is and they love her. I came to the point of accepting a few years ago that my grandma is piety much gone already, and I mourned that loss. I will be sad when she is gone of course, but the grandmother I knew my whole life and loved and enjoyed, is no longer here.
It is very hard to go see them now, and see that every week, they have both gotten so much worse. The dr gave my grandpa 6 months- a year to live. Grandpa has pretty much embraced the 6 month deadline, and I will be shocked if he lives past that, simply out of stubbornness if nothing else. It is hard to see the pain in his eyes when he is talking to me, or to hear about the new thing he simply cannot do anymore. I know it is hard for him because he is losing his independence very quickly. I think that is probably the WORST part for him. Aside from practical things like cooking or cleaning for them, I have no idea how to help him. He is on so many pain killers now that he kind of just sits in his chair and sleeps and watches tv. He only gets up if he has to. I have no idea how to cheer him up or make him better.
Because of the baby and my son's energy levels, going over to visit is more of a production than they can handle lately. It seems to stress my grandmother out, and I worry that it will only get worse. I am resisting the urge to be over there every single day, soaking up their presence while I can, enjoying my grandfather's company, creating as many memories as possible before he is gone. Watching them die is maybe the hardest thing I have ever had to do and I feel lost and scared. Knowing that if I have another baby, they will never know my grandparents is gut wrenching to me. They have been there at least once a week for my kids entire lives. Every birthday party, every Christmas. All of a sudden and very soon, there is going to be a GIANT hole in our lives and that thought is almost unbearable to me.
Posted by Sarah Bryant at 9:41 PM