by Giselle Renarde
Did I tell you my grandmother has moved to a retirement home? It was kind of a big deal.
I'm not entirely sure how the decision was arrived at that my grandmother would move out of her house and into a retirement home. It was such a momentous event. You'd think I'd be able to pinpoint exactly how and why it happened. But I can't. This year has been such a whirlwind of family stuff. It seemed like one day she was living in her house and the next she'd rented a respite room for 6 months. She'd been there 3 days when she signed a lease to move in permanently.
In the beginning, everything was wonderful. Everything was perfect. My grandmother raved about the food, the care, the accommodations, the activities.
She'd been there less than a week the first time I visited her. Right away, she told me, "I have friends already!" Which is wonderful. When she lived at the house, she had family, but that's it. Not a friend in the world. I mean that seriously. She relied on her kids for everything, including socializing. She's got a sister who is two years older than she is, and they only speak twice a year. So making friends was a big deal.
All the same, it was clear to me she was seeing this retirement home through rose-coloured glasses. That's fine. She's 87 years old. She's allowed to be excited about something. But she obviously wasn't acknowledging the negatives. It's almost like she'd fallen in love with the place. It was new love.
My sister and I visited my grandmother this weekend. We both had independent and innate feelings that it was very important to see her right away. My mother had mentioned to us that my grandmother's been ill of late, but that's no surprise during a heat wave. I've been sick too. Totally because of the heat.
When we visited, we found a grandmother who was practically a changeling of the one we've always known. My grandma has faced a lot of hardships in her life, but she's always had a positive attitude. The grandma we visited this weekend was the opposite of that person.
Everything was terrible. Everything! The retirement home she'd raved about when she first moved in was a prison to her. She hated it, hated everything about it.
She wanted her freedom. She wanted to go home.
"If I was at home, I could go out in the backyard and sit in the sun. I can't do that here. I'm locked in this one little room. I'm trapped here."
Well, I hate to call bullshit on my own grandmother... so I didn't do it to her face... but I will do it here. Because when we arrived, where did we find her? Locked in her one little room? Nope. We found her out on the accessible front deck overlooking the gardens, basking in the sun, chatting with her friends.
At home, she couldn't have gone out in her backyard if she tried. There are steps to get down into it and she no longer has the mobility to access spaces without ramps.
The freedom she imagines is imaginary freedom.
That's the thing about freedom: a lot of it is in your mind.
Easy for me to say. I can hear and see and walk on my own. I'm not 87 and my body isn't falling apart. My grandmother has been complaining about her physical deterioration for years, and she has every right to her complaints. I'd be complaining too, if I had all her medical conditions.
But there was a subtle difference this weekend, when we saw her. The complaining wasn't good-natured as it used to be. My grandma has always liked to laugh at her foibles. She's always told funny stories about all the inappropriate places she's peed (in my uncle's car, in my aunt's car, at Subway...), but this weekend's story was about waking up in blood and shit. It wasn't a funny story. It wasn't meant to be funny.
She kept saying, "I wish they'd just take me out back and shoot me."
Now, she says stuff like that all the time. The difference was the tone. The despair. The depression--a state I know all too well, but I've never seen it in my spirited grandmother.
In my mind, it's natural that she's dipped into this low. Maybe not usual for her, but it was bound to happen. When she first moved in, she couldn't find a single fault with her new residence. Now she can't find even one bright spot. She'll even out in time. The place isn't perfect, but it's far from terrible.
I just hope she's got that time ahead of her.
This weekend, a family friend's grandson lost his battle with cancer. He died two weeks shy of his sixth birthday. I was just reading his obituary, since the funeral is tomorrow. His parents ask that everyone wear blue instead of black, because that was his favourite colour. OR, if you happen to own a Star Wars T-shirt or Pokemon pyjamas, wear those. "He'd want you to be comfortable."
His parents miss him, obviously, but they insist he's found freedom.
I want my grandma to live forever. I love her. She is my font of wisdom, of stories. Nothing surprises her. There's nothing here she hasn't seen before. But every day that passes brings more pain, and she's lost hope. She's gotten to a point where she doesn't believe there will ever be a day where she feels better than she felt the day before. In her body. In her mind.
But you know what? When my sister and I left, she thanked us for the visit. She said she'd been feeling awful, just awful, and seeing us brightened her day.
I guess we'll have to visit more often. At this stage, it's all we can do.