Monday, February 8, 2010

The Keepers of Me

I have a bit of a new schedule and new things to think about so posting hasn't been on the top of my list.

Before I begin, I suppose I should clarify that in the South, we still call our parents mama and daddy. As a writer, I generally tend to refer to them as my parents or my mother and father except in dialogue to ease the . . . overt southerness of it all. However, my grandfather has been my grandaddy and I will refer to him as such in my posts.

My grandaddy has been through a bit in just my lifetime. He suffered his first heart attack when I was a toddler and had another when I was twelve or so. He had a stroke a few years ago that left him incapable of reading. Leukemia and prostate cancer have whittled a big boned man down to less than 120 pounds. He will be eighty in March and time has been taking its toll on a man who was always larger than life itself.

My mom called me a couple of weeks ago. Grandaddy still wants to take a shower - he does not want a sponge bath and somehow it came about to ask me if I could help him do this. So now I come over and help my grandaddy take a shower three or four times a week on the days he's up to doing so. He told me, "You scrub down as far as possible then bathe up as far as possible and I'll get possible."

That does alleviate the strangeness of it all and he wears his shorts in the shower. I keep thinking the feeling of wet shorts must be very uncomfortable, but it he gets to maintain some dignity and I'm not really faced with seeing my grandaddy's possible.

I thought about not writing about it on this because it's such a personal thing, but I've begun to develop particular views on end-of-life care and it is important to me.

I've struggled the past couple of weeks, not with bathing my grandaddy, though he is right particular about how to go about things - but the idea that he needs me to do this for him.

When I was a child, Grandaddy and Marie's (my stepgrandma) house was a constant in my life. My parents moved a lot up until they divorced when I was eight. For some reason, we always moved around the same end of the county so I never understood the purpose in all this constant moving, but I always knew that my grandparents' house would be the same.

The house stood in the same spot. The same door opened into the same living room that held the same couch and the same television and the same people for all the years I needed it. Things rarely changed and there were days I'd stay there when I was too sick to go to school and the same radio station would play the same people every morning - Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Patsy Cline with Slats Jackson calling out the price of tomatoes at the IGA in between songs. Life usually tended to be pretty steady. I don't remember my grandparents ever arguing though some of my uncles would bring their rowdiness there from time to time. 

So when my mother called me to ask this of me, I'd never thought to say no. They'd never said no to me.

I have an uncle three years younger than me - the late-in-life child of my grandaddy and my step grandma. He was a very imaginative sort as a child and it was always interesting to see what sort of fun Kenny Lee was going to cook up to occupy us on any given day. Marie called him a few days ago and mentioned I'd taken on the bathing task. According to her, he said, "That's just not normal! That's not normal at all. It's not normal to have to help someone who was so big and powerful when you were little."

And, oh lord, he's so right. I've had to do things in life that didn't sit well with me, but when I allow myself to think very long on the fact that I am helping to bathe my grandaddy, it's as painful as when Wild Boy was born with group B strep and I lived in terror that I would never bring him home. It's different in it's own way though. My grandaddy is dying and there are times you have to accept death as the inevitable outcome of a process. And it's not only that, it's an acknowledging of the changing of the guard. Sometimes it would seem so much easier to always be the child.

Even for all the emotional turmoil of seeing my grandaddy's ribs and his spine, of seeing his eyes sometimes oddly like a child's though his mind is still good, his legs that are smaller than my arms now - it is a great honor to do this for my grandparents.


uncanny said...

Thank you for sharing. That was beautiful to read.

Amanda said...

I took care of my grandmother in her last month of life. Cherish this time...once its passed you will be very thankful you were there.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry about your granddaddy. Thanks for sharing, though. My dad has leukemia and I've had to watch the same thing happen to him. He's gone from being larger than life to...a cancer patient. Bald, skinny, and sick. It's horrible.

Jenny Brewer said...

I think its wonderful that you can do that for him. Your attitude towards it is so wonderful. I was very close to my papa and saw him wither away, too. It's so hard to watch. I'm sure he appreciates what you're doing so so much, and you will always know that you did everything good to make him comfortable. xoxo

Anonymous said...

KAR, this was very moving. I agree with Amanda---You should cherish this time, though it seems a painful task to be cherishing. It's plain to see you have a lot of love for your granddaddy. How good that you are able and willing to help him with such a basic need.

janineb said...

thank you vocalizing that, and sharing.
I often wish I had spent more time with my grandparents before they all passed. But I feared doing so because of exactly this - not being able to reconcile who they had become with who I remembered them to be when I was little. But you are right. they deserve nothing less because they always offered so much.

Anonymous said...

Wow. You have a gift for expressing the complex in simple elegance. That was beautiful.

janimal said...

That was touching. Sounds to me you are both lucky to have the other in your lives. Live well GrandDaddy.

DoctorWhooo TimeLord said...

It was bittersweet for me to read this account as I only saw my two sets of grandparents a few times before they were all gone , and this before I was 10 years of age.

You are spot on correct about Life being a process. I lost my motherinlaw in October 2006, fatherinlaw in March 2007, and brotherinlaw in December 2009. It makes one cherish each day of life, and reminds us to keep alive the memories of our dear loved ones.

b said...

Update your blog!!!!!

Lunar Eclipse said...

This was a beautiful read. I'm sure he apreciates you alot.

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