Life, God, The Universe, whoever – sure has a great way of keeping you off-guard. “What is the lesson here, Grasshopper?” Is it to always be prepared for everything? Is it to “go with the flow”? It it to throw your hands up and just say “What the Fuck?” all the time? You would think that by this time in my life I would have a handle on how it all works. But I don’t. I don’t have a freakin’ clue.
I’m sitting here in the guest room of my house minding my Aunt Mary. She’s 90 years old. The police found her confused and bleeding outside her home on Wednesday. They took her to the ER where she punched and bit and kicked the five nurses who were trying to get her settled in. It was only through the determination of the Admitting Nurse to play detective that they found me to come for her.
She’s a tough, scrawny, mean-when-she-wants-to-be, old Irish broad. Anyone who has had experience with that knows what I’m talking about. She’s lived on her own for the past three years since my Uncle, her brother, died. She is independent and quick to tell you to mind your own business. She can’t see and she can’t hear and is pretty sure everyone’s plotting to cheat her. She says she hates money but it’s all she ever talks about.
I grew up in that house with her. She is my godmother and she and my Grandmother lived upstairs from us. When my Uncle retired from the priesthood, he moved into our old apartment downstairs. Now it’s just her. We’ve asked her repeatedly to move in with us in Connecticut. She refuses and I understand how it’s too hard for her to make such a major change. I wanted her to be where she is happy, to have her independence. Friends who mean well would tell me that she shouldn’t be living alone, that she should have a caregiver at least. Yeah, you tell her that. And she’ll tell you where you can go.
But it’s beyond that now. The hospital wouldn’t release her unless she was going home with someone. So I brought her home with me. She had to be sedated for the ride to keep her quite. As it was, the sedative wore off and I had to drive the last fifteen miles with one hand on the wheel and one hand trying to keep her from grabbing the gear shift or taking her clothes off. By the time we got to the house, she had squiggled part way out of the seat belt and was half under the dash.
We carried her in a chair upstairs to the guest room; the room that’s her’s; the room she stays in most weekends when we bring her up. But she doesn’t recognize it. She doesn’t know where she is. Sometimes she knows me and sometimes she doesn’t. She wants to go for a walk outside. She thinks she’s in jail. One of us has to sit with her because if she gets out of bed, she falls. My husband is out right now looking at a care facility for dementia patients.
This just all happened too fast. She’s beginning to wake up now. So I have to let her think I’m the nurse and listen to her tell stories from her life. At some point, she’ll punch me and tell I’m a jerk. Then she’ll take my hand and say she loves me and I’m her best friend.
There was a time when people would think she was my mother and I was happy because I felt so much closer to her. In the past few years though as she’s grown bitter and avaricious and accused me of just wanting her money, well, I don’t even like her very much. But I’m responsible for her. I’ll take care of her even if she hates me for it. And when she looks at me with those vacant eyes and tells me I’m a good girl, I just want to make it all better for her.
Maybe that’s the lesson Grasshopper. Compassion.