The subject we avoid Print
Grand Mom
Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010 -- 1:00 AM

Grand Mom by Audrey Mettel Fixmer

In the past eight months our family has benefited from the dedicated services of hospice nurses, social workers, and chaplains.

That is in addition to the loving round-the-clock care my husband receives from a devoted staff at Countryside Home in Jefferson. Add that to the steady stream of visits from our 10 children, 19 grandchildren, and me, and you can see that Bob is one loved man.

Although he is trapped in the vise of Alzheimer's, it is apparent that Bob is soothed by our visits (eight of our 10 children live nearby) and by Fr. Tom Coyle's weekly Mass for the residents of Countryside.

Though he may sleep through many of our visits and not always know the names of our children, Bob seems to come alive at the Wednesday Mass. He smiles when Father Coyle shakes his hand, opens his eyes at the consecration, and opens his mouth when Father brings him the sacred host. His faith is still alive and apparently a great source of comfort to him.

'Chills down my spine'

This past weekend our son, Tom, visited with his wife from Colorado. Bob had developed pneumonia, and we all know that this could mean the end.

His doctor started him on an antibiotic just the day before Tom's visit, so the family was in a state of suspense. Would this take care of it? Would he be able to recover?

As we sat there fussing over the fact that his hearing aid was away being repaired, and his upper denture kept falling out due to his weight loss, a stranger walked into the room.

The young woman introduced herself as a nurse filling in for the regular hospice nurse. She had been given the basic facts of the case and asked if he had Alzheimer's, then explained to all of us (including the patient) that the pneumonia was no doubt caused by aspirating food into the lungs, even though everything he eats is pureed. The solution, she said, could be to stop feeding him altogether as a method for speeding up his death.

Her statement sent chills down my spine, despite the fact that I already knew these things. When I got my breath, I spoke clearly and distinctly, "As long as Bob enjoys his food and wants to eat, we will continue to feed him."

Not mincing words

Bob gave no indication that he had heard any of this, but Tom and Janet seemed appalled that her words were spoken "in front of the patient."

Our family often remarks that "Dad seems to hear and understand more than we realize," and so we are cautious what we say in his presence.

Later we discussed the policy of hospice not to mince any words. Death is imminent. The family must be aware, and the patient needs to know.

I guess that many of the things we fuss over (the hearing aid, the dentures) are more for our benefit than his. We want Bob to hear our "important" words, so when he pulls out the hearing aid and throws it across the room, we scramble to pick it up and take it in for repairs . . . again.

When we find him snoring away in his lounge chair out in the television room, and his denture has come loose and hangs there in a weird way, we insist that it be glued back in for the sake of his dignity. He goes into deep sleeps for days at a time, barely opening his mouth for food at those times.

Love and laughter

Why are we not talking about dying to him? We had him anointed in July and Father Tom heard his confession in fall at his own request. Every time we visit him we all keep up a cheery, happy attitude. He must know that he is dying. Does he think we don't know? Or don't care? I feel guilty that I can't bring myself to talk about death, and grateful that a couple of my daughters can make an occasional reference to dying. I can't.

For a long time, I was praying the Lord's Prayer and blessing him with Holy Water before I left his room each day. But that made me cry, so I quit that in favor of, "I love you! See you tomorrow!"

When he replies, "I love you too!" that makes me happy. Once he replied to my "I love you" with "I don't blame you." And that made me laugh out loud.

I prefer laughter.

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