Family Caregivers, Gram Helen's Story

Time to Find a Place for Gram

My heart breaks as I write this.


For two years my grandma has lived in my home with my family.  Many things have changed in those two years.  After she fell and broke her shoulder in May 2010, she spent several weeks in a rehab center.  Those weeks were hell.  She was in pain, medicated and she WANTED TO GO HOME.  After her surgery and recovery, it was very clear that dementia was taking over and that she would not be safe at home alone.  Because I co-own Gentog, an Adult Day Program, and live very near, it made sense that she would live with me and my husband during the week.  On the weekends she would stay with my parents.  Sharing the care would ease the burden, and she’d be happy with family.


For the most part she has been happy in this arrangement, but she has never really comprehended it.  In her version of the disease, she lives in another time and space.  If you ask her today where she lives, she would tell you that she lives in Newberg with her husband Harold.  (He passed away in 1988).  She would also tell you that she drove her car here today (she actually gave up driving before the disease took over, more than 3 years ago).  And she would tell you that she is blessed to be able to care for herself, thank you very much (she can’t).


In these two years, my adult children have both moved home.  My daughter returned home “temporarily”, and has the room across from Gram.  My son and his wife moved in to help make the mortgage payments, with the intention of eventually buying the house from Jim and I.  They soon became pregnant, and our perfect grandson joined the mix in March 2011.  So seven of us have lived mostly in harmony under one roof.


We worried when the baby was born that things would not go well with Gram.  Instead, she adores the baby, and he has made her days with us very happy.  She usually remembers that her shoulder doesn’t work well, and that she can’t pick him up.  She knows that he is “our baby”, although she usually thinks he is my son as a toddler, and she sometimes thinks he belongs to her.  Those moments are a little scary, and he has spent the first 15 months of his life sleeping in his parent’s room, just in case.


A few weeks ago I got a call from my mom that changed our world.  Over the weekend, Gram had gotten up in the middle of the night, turned on the stove, and gone back to bed.  Fortunately, she woke up again, insisting that my mom come quickly because there was a man in the house.  Of course there was no man (maybe an angel?), but mom found the ruined teapot and turned off the stove.  The countertop next to the stove was hot to the touch.  Clearly they were lucky that there had been no fire.  After talking to my mom, I hung up the phone and cried.  Thankfully it was just a close call…but I could have lost both of my parents and my grandma in an instant.  It was probably time to consider alternate living arrangements.


A week later (after talking, but taking no action), we had another wake-up call.  Gram and I were going up the stairs to put her to bed.  The baby was scampering ahead of us.  Gram lost her balance (which is common now), called out and fell to a seated position…I caught her so she wouldn’t fall down the stairs, and she managed to twist around to avoid landing on the baby.  Everyone was scared.  Thankfully neither of them were injured…but what if?  That evening my son reminded me that it was, indeed, time to look for alternate living arrangements for Gram.


This is so hard.  I have this wonderful business where I can help people keep their loved ones at home instead of placing them in long-term care.  But that doesn’t always mean they can keep them home until the end.  Sadly, every family has a turning point.  Perhaps I am supposed to learn what that feels like so that I can more clearly understand what my clients go through?  I try to hold onto that thought, but honestly, I feel like a bit of a failure here.


And so the search begins…