Grace, a strong independent woman who served as a WAVE during WWII and lost her husband at an early age to a plane crash, suffers from Parkinson's disease. In the past few years, her shaking has gotten increasingly worse. This past year, she's had trouble maintaining her balance, and the last few months have been punctuated by a series of falls at her apartment, and in several cases, visits to the hospital.
This Novemember, she spent two weeks at a rehab center, at a place she hated. They often strapped her down against her will and she's not exactly a fighter. She felt powerless.
When she returned home, she seemed weaker, not stronger. Even with a visiting nurse, her falls have become more frequent.
This past Saturday, Corb's mom called. "Grandma fell again for the third time this week. The fire department went to check on her, but they've told your brother they can't keep doing that. In the future, they are going to have to start billing for each visit. So, I've made the decision to move her into a nursing home. She's going tomorrow."
We hastily arranged for a dinner at one of her favorite restaurants to celebrate her birthday--and in many ways, to try and raise her spirits. It wasn't successful. Grace pretty much sat at the table the entire night, not saying a word, trying, in her slow and shaking way, simply to lift the next piece of food up into her mouth.
Don't get me wrong: she is alert as anything. Her mind is still quite sound, it's her body that's failing. On Christmas day, after supper, I watched as she rose from the table and almost fell to the floor. Fortunately, I was by her side, but it took two people to keep her standing. Corb and I drove her home that night, and I wondered to myself how she's able to get around independently when no one is there. But she cherishes her independence, and Corb has been scared to death about how having it taken away will affect her. "It's a death sentence," he's said. I haven't known how to respond.
The night of the birthday party, Corb's mom slept over her apartment. The next morning, Corb received a text message: Grandma is in emergency room. Fell three times last night.
"Maybe it's because she's so worried about leaving home?" I asked.
"And I don't know if she really has to," grumbled Corb. "I'm not sure if it's what she wants or what my mother wants. Her other daughter offered to let her live with them, but my mom is all worried that she'll never see her again. She says grandma doesn't want to live there, but I'm not sure if that's mom telling her she doesn't want to live there, and grandma going along with it. You know how she will agree to anything mom says."
I don't know. It is true that Corb's mom has had the lion's share of responsibility for looking after her mother. Her sister never helps, because she's too far away, and her brother is completely useless. So, why shouldn't she have her mother close by at a nursing home? The place she is going to she says is about two miles from her house and highly recommended. Is that truly the worst situation in the world? And, would her sister really have the ability to look after their mother full time?
Still, I can see Corb's point. My own grandmother was about 88 when she moved to a nursing home. Despite her previous independence, she gradually became completely dependent on the staff. And, I think it gets more difficult to visit someone at a nursing home. That last year of my grandmother's life, I was going through my separation with Josie, and was a little distracted. I didn't see her half as much as I should have. I feel sad about it to this day.
What's the best choice in these things? It's so difficult. I tend to think Corb's mom is making the best decision she can.
Last night, we received an encouraging report from Corb's mom. The doctor at the hospital thinks that Grace has had an infection in her system since her stay at the bad rehab facility, something they didn't properly diagnose. That infection may have been the cause of her falls, and it's entirely possible that after another two weeks at a better rehab facility, she would be able to move back to her home, with a visiting nurse, of course.
A reprieve. Or at least, a cause for hope. I want to see that woman stay as independent as possible for as long as she can.
Ernie would have wanted it that way.