Dementia, Mary rolled the word around in her mind as she drove. No one could tell her exactly what this meant or what to expect. The doctors claimed it was the gradual decrease in Grandma’s cognitive ability but then could not explain the type of lapse the woman suffered. Mary found these the most difficult to deal with emotionally. In Mary’s mind, it was as if Grandma Dot disappeared; became lost in her mind. It began last year, or maybe it was the year before, sad that she couldn’t recall when they noticed it. She slowly exhaled as she battled with her sense of guilt. As her grandmother’s power of attorney, she damn well should know this! In her peripheral vision, she saw Kim look at her, but she ignored the question in her sister’s eyes. She preferred to bear her guilt in private.
Mary had been dealing with this for over a year, spending more time with Gran without anyone’s knowledge. She thought that doing so would help her understand this better, however, in the end, she felt just as lost as her grandmother. When Gran’s doctor tried to explain this, she left the office with more questions than she had when she began. She took Josie’s suggestion and Googled the information, which was a mistake. Stories of the elderly trapped behind silenced minds, stories of women like herself attempting to appease a parent when they became unreasonable. She scanned through images of healthy brains, which diminish in size and function without rhyme or reason. After an afternoon of this, she felt more frustrated than she had before. Nothing she read addressed the problem her grandmother had currently, which was the baffling absence of…presence.
No one could explain this. Gran would be talking to you one minute, and the next she would stare off into space; smiling. The only positive was that Gran appeared happy. Mary wondered; where she went or did these lapses took her anywhere? Mary was frustrated since anywhere she turned for answers, she ran into a blank wall. It wasn’t always like this, her Grandmother boasted about how bright their Great Uncle Donny was but, to be honest, the woman herself was just as intelligent. Every Christmas, Mary gave her the New York Times book of puzzles. Gran would have the puzzles finished before May. Mary was amazed, simply amazed. Even now, Gran could still on rare days sit with her and work a puzzle. Nevertheless, when she grew tired, the faraway look would come to her watery blue eyes; Gran would smile serenely then disappear before her very eyes.
Mary had no other option than to consider Grandma Dot’s future. She researched facilities that specialized in dementia, Alzheimer’s and treatment for patients suffering memory loss. The best doctor in the city offered recommendations but would not take Gran as a patient. Sadly, her situation was not dire enough, or it was that it was not interesting enough for him. Caustically she wondered if he’d feel the same if this was his grandmother, she doubted this. She knew several women in her club that are in the medical field; she turned to them for their input. They all recommended the same facility. After a thorough review, she was ready for the most challenging discussion, that with her sister.
“NO, absolutely not; Mary we are not putting Gran in a home!”
Sensitive Kim, she has always been a compassionate soul, but in the last couple of years, she has been nothing but a weeping willow. She watched sad movies in her free time and sat there crying the whole damn time. She donated to every SPCA, Children’s Hospital or Disaster Relief Campaign that she saw. Not that this was a bad thing, Mary reasoned, it is just that she believed that Kim should pick one single organization to support. Mary’s current concern was that Gran’s future would become another banner her sister would wave.
“Kim, listen to me they may be able to help her. Don’t you want her to get better?” Kim eyed her sister suspiciously. Taking advantage of the lull, Mary continued. “Look it is close to us too, we can visit more often. They said she could even come home for overnight visits. Plus, when the time comes…”
“When the time comes, Mary?”
“Kim, Grandma, is not going to live forever; she is damn near a hundred!”
That was it; Kim stormed out of her house in tears without saying another word. Mary rose to stop her then decided against it. The reality was she was sick and tired of everyone falling to pieces when she depended on them. It was rare that she needed anyone, but it never failed that she found herself abandoned each time. They were weaklings, all of them.
In the end, Mary did what she did best; she handled it. The resolution decided by her on one of her visits to her Grandmother.
The grandfather clock struck four; the chime interrupted the silence in Gran’s home. They sat at the table with a crossword puzzle between them, the majority of the squares empty. It was apropos to the current situation with so many questions and many more unrealized solutions. Her grandmother sat across from her soundlessly, staring without seeing. They had sat like this for the better part of an hour. Mary reached across and took the old woman’s hand.
“Where is it that you go to Gran?”
No words filled the space between them; the old woman remained as she had been; mute. In a rare moment of vulnerability, Mary dissolved into tears. She cried tears of anger that she was the only sister strong enough to deal with this. Tears of frustration because even now, she was unsure she was doing the right thing. They were tears of sadness, as a rush of memories surrounded her in her grandparents’ home. Silent tears shed, as she sat embarrassed, suffocated under the weight of her ego. Her grandmother sat unaffected, like Mona Lisa, Grandma Dot smiled a soft, gentle smile. Mary’s tears subsided all the while she kept her grandmother’s thin hand in her own; oddly, it made her feel stronger. It didn’t make sense, but she accepted it.
The open window invited the warm spring evening air, and a mix of new greenery and the perfume of gardenias’ rushed in. Mary inhaled the sweet air, allowing it to calm her emotions. Quickly the mask of efficiency returned, her sense of duty bolstered her resolve. Mentally she clicked through the items that needed to be addressed to provide a safe environment for her grandmother. Mary wasn’t known for being emotional; instead, she illustrated her love by her competence. She glanced at her grandmother; the woman remained imprisoned within her mind. Mary struggled to understand this.
“Where do you go?” Her soft voice disturbed the silence; still, she received no response.
Mary straightened and looked around the room. On the main wall, an aged photo of her grandparents hung centered, surrounded by pictures of her own family and that of Kim’s. She caught the faint scent of a cigar, although not a fan of smoking, she always associated cigars with Grampa Nick. Unconsciously, she smiled as his memory swirled in her mind. Grampa seated at the small piano, hammering out forgotten melodies. The card tricks he loved to entertain them with, no matter how many times she saw them; she never knew how he did them. The time, as a young girl, he let her and Kim have a sip of champagne on New Year’s Eve. She recalled how it made them feel grown up and a part of the celebration. As subtly as it arrived, the faint cigar aroma was gone. Distractedly she noted before putting the house on the market; they would have to make sure that they rid the home of the stale smoke smell.
The drone of the SUV motor lulls Mary back. Her passengers were silent; thankfully, they left her to her thoughts. She clicked off the cruise control and accelerated, the answers were ahead of her, not in the past.