I sit watching my 90-year-old grandmother prepare dish water. I watch her and my 92-year-old grandfather wash dishes. My father walks away because either he knows or doesn't want to watch. I offer to help - she won't let me.
My grandmother is sun-downing before my eyes. And the sun is setting outside the west window. The clouds are orange and purple. It's lovely out there, but stormy in here.
I want to go back to this morning - back when my grandmother knew who I was and why I was in her house. Back when she was laid back and let us do things for her. Back when we could suggest something without yelling. So much yelling. No matter how loud our voices are Grandma still doesn't understand. That was hours ago, but it seems like decades.
My grandmother yells at my father because he's not dyring a plate correctly. My attention snaps back to the sink as my father belligerently tells my grandmother "Well, if you don't like the way I'm doing it, then dry it yourself!" as he shoves the towel at her. She replies by slamming down the towel and yelling, "I can't! I'm washing!"
A 90-year-old woman who can't remember how to use the stove or take a shower is trying to wash dishes because it's HER house and only SHE knows how to do things correctly. And sometimes we look at each other and think, "She's such a pain in the ass." Honestly, I feel bad thinking those things. I wonder what's going on in her mind. What is left? If she knows us in the morning but not in the evening, what is going on inside? I don't understand - but I want to.
I have my own, very different, mental problems. PTSD and depression and anxiety are very different from Alziemers disease. I have insight into my world and what's wrong with me, and I don't think my Grandma does. I feel like I should be a support for her, a shoulder to lean on when she talks about how frustrating Alziemers is. And I can't be that person - no one can. She doesn't know what's wrong or that there is anything wrong.
And I can't imagine feeling like that.
The dish-washing episode was set off by an argument we had while sitting on the porch. All of this over an argument about when the porch was built. I was yelled at because ther's no way I could remember it, according to Grandma. She said I wasn't even born yet when the porch was built. My handprint is in the cement slab next to the handprint of my younger brother. Those handprints were put in cement and dated when the porch was added on. We were here. We remember and Grandma doesn't.
It's so frustrating to talk to someone when hard evidence - like handprints in the cememt - can't even convince them they are confused.
Usually, we laugh off her inappropriate comments and oblige her with an answer when she asks us the same question for the third time in 10 minutes. That's in the morning. By evening, it dissolves into arguments that are frustrating for us - and honestly, I have no idea what they are like for her. Because that is the nature of Alziemers. You just don't know.
*Written Labor Day Weekend, 2009*
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