Bette Davis was onto something when she said, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.”
In addition to struggling to be eighty-six and, well, just being Grampa, there is more lately.
Memory issues, timing issues, judgement issues, confusion, anger, rage.
It’s not really hard to figure out where a lot of this is coming from… mixed and mingled with whatever sinister thing is at work in his mind and body…
Old Yankee Men, by definition, are used to being in control.
Grampa provided for his family, often working multiple jobs at once to do so.
In his home, the buck stopped with him.
Well, at least Granny allowed him to believe that.
His wisdom was sought after to fix flat tires, broken carburetors, and to tease out the identity of tricky automotive gremlins that caused knocks and pings and other stuff not compatible with the smooth functioning of Granny’s or the kids’ cars.
Also, he knew how to utilize of everything from wire hangers, to duct tape, to gum, creosote, and infinite sizes and incarnations of wood – from two-by-fours to tongue depressors – to identify and solve almost any problem having to do with an appliance, furnace, or plumbing system.
He, literally, kept his house standing.
But times changed on him.
Now there are run-flat tires, fuel injectors, and computers are used to diagnose cars (and people for that matter).
Newspapers – a staple of the Old Yankee Man’s morning breakfast table – are getting skinnier and skinnier, and ‘not worth a crap’ as we ‘kids’ turn to the internet for our news. Grampa uses his iPad for news once in a while, but it is no substitute, he says, for holding a great newspaper (he also has size requirements for what qualifies as a ‘great newspaper’).
And, yes, I just said that. When it comes to news delivery mechanisms, according to Grampa, size matters.
Even his beloved creosote – which he formerly used in as many an indiscriminate manner as some people use duct tape – has been declared a carcinogen by the EPA (not that that would stop him from finding it and using it if he were more mobile (and his back-alley supplier, Frankie Schneider, was still alive)).
And it’s harder to ‘putter’ (translation: meander around fixing stuff, the hobby of the Old Yankee Man) when you are living in a fairly new house without the duct taped, gum, and/or creosote solutions that have been in place for years, and need constant attention.
Grampa’s control is sliding.
Faster and faster down a steepening slope.
Now, it’s really hard to fix the things that don’t need fixing, and the things that do.
The ‘Damn Walker Slide Thingie’ gets in the way, and his balance and dexterity are not what they used to be.
He calls Gabe in to replace lightbulbs now, because he has dropped too many.
It must suck.
I mean, really, really suck.
And then his memory, sense of time, sense of reality…
That isn’t what it used to be either.
And I know he is afraid.
And my heart gets yet another wrinkle.
But it also opens wide.
Because everything I just wrote, about all he has lost and how much that must suck?
That’s my armor.
And my sword.
My armor against the words I hear him using sometimes.
The threats he makes, the things he yells. The crystal-clear view into the fact that his thoughts aren’t even remotely crystal clear. The ones that cause the tears I see in Granny’s eyes, and feel in my own.
The knowledge that this sucks for him is also my sword.
To be wielded on his behalf as we move through various appointments and experts and tests and advice and ideas and roadblocks and, well, and the list goes on.
What will help him?
What will help her?
I find myself trying to imagine what it will be like to depend on the children I raised, for pretty basic stuff like rides and interpreting and explaining medical details, let alone for basics like bathing and dressing.
Like, probably close to impossible.
My head nearly pops off if one of the kids tries to dismiss my opinion or point of view now. What’s it going to be like when my filters all dissolve and there is nothing between them and the mental missiles I will have been preparing for, like, forty years by the time I am eighty-six?
Not good, that’s what it will be like.
Maybe not good at all.
Grampa has good days, and bad days.
Today was a pretty good day.
After a pretty successful doctor’s visit, he was tired on the pathway to the house, too tired to continue to the door. He had to rest.
I got a chair from the porch and brought it to him, and Granny brought him water.
And we sat in the sunshine.
He drank his water and we talked about good things, bright things. He even talked about exercising more.
And then we laughed as he told us that he might not actually do that, no matter who offered to exercise with him.
He’d make an exception if I could produce Sophia Loren.
(I may call her.)
I’m tired. We all are. But I was reminded the other day that even the most trying of times comes with gifts.
My sister-in-law, Robin, and I were on the phone and laughing at ourselves as we tried to make words through our tears. She said something in the midst of our sniffing and snorting that I will be grateful for… for the rest of my life.
She said, “… of course we’re a mess, he’s our Dad…”
And a lump hit my throat, one so big it took me almost ten seconds to collect myself and say something.
“Thanks,” I choked out
And she asked me what for.
“For the ‘our’.” I said.
That meant more to me than she could ever know.
One of my lifetime top ten gifts
Thanks for readin’.
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