Day three, 4:11 AM. No sleep.
Grandpa has been rabid this week. I’ve been doing homework in five minute increments for three days, but I have a strong feeling that when compiled, it will be senseless. There’s more to be done, but at this point the choice now involves my health. Bed, it is.
I roll myself up in my comforter, burrito like, and close my eyes for a pleasant twenty seconds before hearing a stir from the baby monitor. I don’t have children, but I have grandpa. As much as it hurts both my body and my soul, I pry my eyes open just in time to see him–it’s a video monitor–emerge from his room, fully dressed. Again, it’s 4:11. He went to bed at 2:30.
I know he’s up for the day. I know it, but I’m still desperate for him to recline in his chair and relax, so I stay in my burrito. He is standing in the hallway choosing, living room or kitchen? Living room! Please God, living room!
The clench of my jaw is broken as an explosive curse escapes from deep within my throat. I’m angry. I’m not angry with grandpa, not at all, but I’m angry with dementia. I’m angry with dementia, with science, possibly with God; I’m not even sure anymore, but I know I’m angry. I toss the covers from my body and descend the stairs.
He’s in the fridge. He doesn’t see his breakfast of eggs, sausage, and pancakes. He doesn’t even look, he just reaches for the eggs without any thought; all that remains is habit. I take them from his hand and show him the plate. He’s weak from lack of sleep as well. As usual, after three days, he can barely walk and he can’t form a clear sentence. He keeps reaching for eggs and I keep blocking, eventually I get in him to sit down. I test his blood sugar, feed him, and give him his medications. I’m hoping against hope that for some reason, today will be the day that a mild sleep aid knocks him out for a few hours. The doctor prescribed them months ago, but I don’t like to give them to him. Sleep aids make me nervous at twenty-four; he’s ninety-four.
He isn’t fazed. After he’s had his fill of the kitchen, he heads toward the living room to seek out his tennis shoes. It’s time for work. He retired in 1983 from a factory. The factory has been closed for seven years. He won’t find his outside shoes; they’ve been hidden for months.
The clock on the wall reads 5:05. I have less than 4 hours to get ready and leave for campus, but I can’t go back upstairs for my clothes or he will go out the front door. My mother is coming to watch him while I’m gone, but she’s never been here during an “episode” and he tends to only eat and take his medication from me when he’s like this. The morning is full of his typical dementia-behavior. I spend my time trying to keep him calm, hoping he’ll sleep and he spends his time fighting me tooth and nail. As 9:00 approaches, I know I’m not making it to my first class. I make a call to the doctor. “Dose him again and give him a melatonin tablet.” This is when I find out that she’d only prescribed a half dose of a mild aid to begin with. No wonder they have never worked.
Finally, he’s resting and my mother has arrived. I’ve skipped most of the day and now have one class left, but I need to go. I’m hoping he will sleep two hours, long enough for me to leave and return. I cover him up, give him a small squeeze, say a quick “love ya,” and head for campus. As I start for the door, a picture catches my eye. I’m six years old and standing on the front porch, here, holding hands with “Papaw.”
I go back to his chair.
I look at him lying in his chair, expressionless. I look at his abdomen to make sure he’s breathing, as I often do. He is. I pause for a few moments. It is now that I finally accept reality. Papaw is gone. No, he didn’t suddenly stop breathing, but he’s gone and he has been for quite a while. The jolly, Santa-like man that I grew up adoring, who prided himself on “smarts” and would have captured the moon had I truly needed it disappeared three years ago the moment he slipped into his first hallucination. He’s gone and dementia is pure evil, a gift to the human race from Satan himself. That’s my reality.
I start for the door a second time, hiding my welling eyes from my mom as I go. I wait until the car is warmed up before I let a single tear fall, but as the tires grab the pavement, I lose all control. I need to go straight, campus is ahead of me, but I turn left. I don’t realize it yet, but I’m heading to the cemetery. I’m going to visit my grandma, to cry and ask her to forgive me. I don’t know why I need her forgiveness. Was this recognition some sort of cardinal sin? Did I do something wrong? No, I don’t think so. I haven’t given up; I’m still taking care of him, but something in me feels wrong.
What do I do now? How do I hold on to my reasonings for doing this in the first place when I feel like the person I volunteered to do it for is gone and I’m mothering a shell? I remind myself that he took care of five generations, including me, and that he deserves someone to return the favor in his time of need, but there are moments, brief moments when that isn’t enough to provide any solace. I keep going through the motions. I feed him, medicate him, clean him, and watch him, but it’s so hard to witness that I either cry myself through it or I stop caring. I need a third option. This can’t be okay, can it?