I have always thought that growing old is probably one of the toughest things a person has to go through in life. I was lucky enough to know my great-grandmother on my father’s side. We called her Granny. She was from Cornwall, England and moved to the states when grandma turned sixteen. She was a trip and a half. She was born in 1900 and lived to be 93.
She was pretty sharp until she hit her late seventies and early eighties. Then dementia started to set in. She lived with my grandparents. My siblings and I would come up to Michigan to visit them every summer and stay for a couple of weeks. When it was time to go home, she’d always shove money in our pockets before we headed to the airport. She made amazing pasties. We were lucky enough that she was able to see her first great-great born. Yes, she made the paper for having five generations in our family tree alive at one time.
And as great as all that is, I still think of some of the misfires she had as her memory started to erode away. I think I was about twelve years old and my oldest cousin was getting married. My grandfather, who had a bad heart, had a fainting spell that morning that perpetuated a visit from the ambulance and fire departments at about 8am. We woke up to them tramping through the house. Pretty scary for kids. My Grandma told me they’d be taking my grandfather to the ER to get checked, but Granny would be there. So, off they went with the fire truck.
The boy across the street had become my summer boyfriend. Seeing all the emergency vehicles got the neighborhood curious, especially him. So he knocked on the door to my grandparents’ door to their front patio. My sister and I came out to tell him about the excitement. He was sitting in the glider chair facing his house, and I was standing across from him talking when I suddenly saw my very naked, very wrinkly Granny standing in the middle of the living room. I was mortified, of course. What twelve year old wouldn’t be? So I excused myself quickly, walked to the living room and shut the door behind me. She let me know she was going to take a shower to get ready for the wedding. I encouraged her to go right away. (At the time, I wished I had a toothbrush to brush my mind clean of the memory of what she looked like) Now I wonder if that wasn’t just the first signs of her dementia setting in.
A couple years later another cousin was getting married. She asked us every day if today was the day for his wedding. She couldn’t remember. My poor, patient Grandma told her mother every time that she’d let her know when it was time to get ready. That Sunday, we all went to church. We picked up one of my Granny’s widowed friends on our way. She was no longer able to drive. I remember giggling inside when she came to the car and we realized she’d put her dress on inside out. I was young and a bit cocky… I hoped that I’d never get that old.
Then the time came… My Granny outlived my Grandpa, and it all became too much for Grandma. She finally had to admit her into a retirement community. By then Granny was nearly completely bedridden and dementia had fully set in. It devastated my Grandma. Granny often didn’t recognize her and thought my aunt was Grandma, and my cousin was my Aunt. She’d reverted almost fully into the past. But the thing about my fiery Granny was that she always spoke her mind…even in this condition.
You see, Granny had a roommate. She was pretty deep into Senile Dementia. She spent most of her days calling for her “Mama!” One day, while my Grandma, aunt and cousin were visiting her, the roommate started wailing for her mother again. So, Granny decided to tell her what she thought as only she could. (Imagine this being said with a British accent)
“I don’t know how to tell you this, dear, but I’m quite sure your mother has been dead for quite some time now!”
Of course this only made the woman wail that much louder and with hysterics. My cousin said they all looked at each other with big eyes not sure if it was appropriate to laugh…and trying to stifle it. All this story did for me was reinforce how hard it must be to get older.
Why am I sharing these little tidbits with you today? Because I’m afraid the process has already started with me. This evening, I walked into my local mall, dying for some Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte (Yes, I’m an addict). As I stood in line waiting for the barista to complete my drink I looked down and realized my shirt looked funny. The lettering appeared off. So I looked more closely at myself…and my sleeves. Sure enough, I’d put my shirt on inside out and walked right into the mall. (Considering I have more than a hint of OCD about certain things, I’m sure you can imagine my reaction….)
As I’m writing this, I’m still beet red! Well, it’s a good thing I also believe that it’s important to have the ability to laugh at yourself. I’m hoping that I was also able to share a little bit of that laughter with you… (Yes, it’s okay if you’re laughing at me.)