My grandpa died yesterday afternoon – a nice, quiet, painless death at the age of 88. Now his body will go to Duke where they can collect what they need, then he’ll be transported back to Marion, NC where he can join his wives.
I don’t usually do re-posts, but today it just seems appropriate. I wrote this just shy of two years ago. Sadly, most of my memories of Grandpa are like this – of him after the Alzheimer’s.
I think that’s one of the crueler aspects of that disease – the theft of memories – both from the afflicted and their loved ones. I don’t know that we could pinpoint when exactly all of Grandpa left his body, but it was long before 11:59 yesterday afternoon. As a result, I think we’ve done most of our mourning. Now we just need to reclaim our memories of the man he was before the disease.
For me, I’ll try to picture him laughing – crinkled eyes, squished nose, shoulders pulled up to his ears as his whole body shivered with giggles.
Earlier this week, we decided to break my grandfather out of the retirement home and take him out for lunch. While Mom had her hair done, Dad and I drove the pussy wagon across town to kidnap grandpa.
Our search began in the dining hall. We scanned the sea of gray haired heads for a familiar face. Nothing.
Dad led the way through the maze of halls to Grandpa’s room. We found the door open and room empty. Well, kind of empty. While there was no one in the room, we did find five wheelchairs crammed amongst the furniture and in the closet. I should probably point out that my grandfather is fully ambulatory – he just likes things with wheels.
In fact, not too long ago he stole the cleaning ladies cart when she left it unattended in the hallway. He worked as a janitor in his later years up in Marion, NC. I guess he thought he was back on the job and that just had to be his cart. When the poor gal came into his room to try and retrieve her tools of the trade, he refused and actually pinned her to the wall with the damn thing. He was so riled up they had to sedate him! Nothing comes between that man and his things on wheels.
We worked our way around the giant square of the complex, peeking in all the side rooms, in search of Grandpa. Nothing.
“Well, I guess we should look in June’s room,” Dad sighed.
June is Grandpa’s girlfriend. He never calls her June, though. Sometimes he calls her Louine (my grandmother’s name). Sometimes he calls her Marcile (his second wife’s name). Mostly though, he just uses pronouns – she, her, etc. She has no idea who he is, either. It’s fascinating to watch the two of them together. Then again, I’ve seen many successful relationships based on far less.
We found the two of them sitting quietly in her room. The shades were drawn and the lights were off. “Want to go have lunch, Dad?” my dad called into the darkness.
“Is She coming with us?”
“Will She be ok while we’re gone?”
“Yes Dad, they’ll take good care of her.”
“Do you want to talk to Her?”
“No Dad, we’ll see her later.”
Grandpa eyed her wheelchair wistfully as he moved towards the doorway. “Well, ok then. Let’s go I reckon.”
Now a trio, we weaved our way back into the daylight. I tried to give him an arm to lean on as he wobbled on his bow legs, but he just kept repeating, “You better let me do it on my own – I’d feel awful if I pulled you down with me.”
We all climbed into the pussy wagon and headed to the culinary mecca of Greensboro – Libby Hills. It’s the best place to take Grandpa for several reasons. First, it’s a pretty simple menu. He’s a simple man that likes simple food. Second, it’s fairly quiet in the dining area. We Lonon’s are rather challenged in the hearing area (just ask Rocco) and Grandpa has it the worst. Of course, he’d lost his hearing aids again. Since medicare only allows two pairs a year, he’d just going to have to wait to lose another pair until next year. Lastly, they’ve got little teeny tiny senior portions. A child of the depression in rural Appalachia, Grandpa just can’t waste a single bite of food. He’ll keep piling little clumps of coleslaw onto the tip of his french fry with his gnarled arthritic hands, and slowly raising the shaking morsel to his mouth, long past the point of his being full. Dad often has to finish Grandpa’s food just so the poor man can stop eating. Smaller portions make it a little easier on both parties.
I don’t know where all that food goes. The mountain man is so skinny these days, if a suspender slips off his shoulder, his pants are around his ankles in seconds. It takes far longer for him to figure out why he’s suddenly chilly. But he can still bend right in two as he folds from the waist to retrieve his britches.
Mom met us at the restaurant. “Hi Grandpa! So good to see you. How are you?”
“Alright I reckon.”
“Isn’t it nice to see your Granddaughter?”
“That’s your Granddaughter.”
“How old am I?”
“You’re eighty six!”
“Well when did THAT happen?”
He’s still so damn cute and charming! He might not have any idea who we all are, but he knows when he cracks a joke. His little blue irises widen in their slightly yellowed setting as they twinkle with delight. He’s as quick to laugh as anyone else I know, whether they’re at full mental capacity or not.
“Do you know who this is?” Mom asked while gesturing at Dad.
“That boy,” he answered matter of factly.
“Which boy?” Mom pressed.
“That boy with the beard!” he responded coyly while smiling.
That breaks my heart right in two. I can’t imagine looking into my father’s eyes and seeing no recognition there. We’re not quite that far with Grandpa, yet. While he’s got no idea that Dad is his son, he knows Dad’s a friendly face that he can trust. He knows that face visited him recently, maybe even many times, and they’ve shared things.
As we walked to the car, Grandpa patted his many pockets in search of who knows what. They’re always full of acorns or pretty rocks, sometimes the occasional bird skull. Sometimes I tease Dad that we should get Grandpa a pair of those cargo pants with the nine bazillion pockets just to see how many goodies he can cram in them.
“What are you looking for in those pockets?” I asked him.
“I can’t remember,” he mumbled.
“You probably can’t find whatever it is because your pockets are full with the phone numbers of all those girls you’ve got fawning over you.”
He stopped shuffling and broke into a wide grin. “Every single one of ’em,” he answered.