I woke up around midnight last night and couldn't fall back to sleep for a couple of hours. It would be easy to blame the fact that we took a red-eye back from our Kauai honeymoon yesterday morning, came back and napped for a few hours until around noon, but it was my mind that was keeping me awake. We arrived back on a Tuesday, and my mom hosted our weekly Dementia Dinner, which is now my tongue-in-cheek name for dinners with my grandparents.
My mother was kind enough to cook Chinese dishes for us, and my grandparents were half an hour late.
During dinner, my mother commented on my grandmother's hair.
It has been getting long and scraggly because, according to my grandfather, she refuses to let him wash it prior to a trip to the salon to have it cut. "They can't wash it for her because she's too short. They even prop her up on books and stuff, but she's still not tall enough. And every time I mention washing her hair, she screams at me and won't let me!" he always says.
"I do?!" my grandmother will say, shocked.
My grandfather will then continue to say the same things about her refusal, my grandmother having no idea what he's talking about.
Lately, I've begun to notice that they smell, and whenever we go to their house, their bathtub is bone dry and dusty from disuse.
My mother and my grandfather will then begin commenting about my grandmother's behavior and how she's much healthier than other women her age that we know or knew, which she will either ignore, or angrily pretend to not care about.
Yesterday was the latter.
"I don't care," she spat. "Do you think I care what they say about me? I don't give a shit. I'll just get up and leave. I don't care. Not one bit."
"Do you even know what they're saying about you?" I asked her. "They're not saying bad things."
"I don't care!" she seethed. "They can talk all they want. It doesn't bother me one bit!"
"I can see that," I said. "You really seem like you don't care at all."
"I don't. I'm going to leave right now. That's how much I don't care. I'm going to get in the car and drive away," she raged. She then began pulling stuff out of her fanny pack, looking for her keys.
We watched her for a minute.
"What was I looking for?" she asked, looking at us.
"Your keys. So you could drive away," my mother reminded her. I don't know why my mother eggs her on like this. That's not true. I know why. She's frustrated and it's hard to be understanding and take care of someone all the time who doesn't appreciate it and only repays her in venom. My grandmother will never remember, and it sort of feels less horrible if you can make a game of it. My husband always feels guilty though, and never wants to make her feel bad.
She forgot again momentarily.
"You know, I tried to leave her a note to take a bath once a week, and she found it and called me and really ripped me a new one. She really screamed at me!" my mother complained. "So, never again. I just left it at that."
I told my grandfather and mother that I'd just go over to their house to try and get my grandmother (and hopefully my grandfather too) to bathe.
"Gramma, can I come over on Saturday for a bath?" I asked.
"Sure," she said, brightening. "You can come over any day. What time?"
"I'll call you later in the week and we'll take a bath, okay?" I said.
"Sure," she said, not hearing me.
I wondered if I'd actually have to take a bath too, just to show that it was something we were all doing, something that I wanted all of us to do, one at a time of course.
As they were getting ready to leave, my mother pulled me aside and said, "You're a better person than I am. I could never do that."
"Well, I'm going to let Ba do it. I'm not going to actually bathe her."
I hugged my grandparents and tried not to breathe too deeply.
After they left, I tried to explain to my mom why I think my grandparents listen to me and think I can do no wrong, other than the fact that I'm their granddaughter.
"I think they just don't respond well to... to..." I stuttered.
"Nagging?" my mother asked.
"Yeah, I think so."
"Well, I don't know any other way to do it," she said with an air of finality. "I've tried, I've really tried." And I know she has.
My mother, always a manager, was never really gentle with anyone other than me when it came to getting things done, and that wasn't even all the time. When something needed to be accomplished, there were no kid gloves. It was tough love and then tender love once you did what she wanted or what was best. Never the other way around.
I've tried to explain to her that she should try and be more understanding, but she gets frustrated too easily. I understand her side too. She feels like she has to do everything, and she only ever gets derision from my grandparents and my grandfather only fails more and more frequently. It's the opposite of every task or project she's ever undertaken. The more and more work she puts in, the worse the results become.
We talked briefly about what we should do about my grandparents, knowing they'd be unwilling to go into a home when they can no longer keep up with taking care of themselves at even this borderline unacceptable level.
"What about a caretaker? Is that more expensive than a home?" I asked.
"No," my mother said. "It's actually cheaper."
"I bet they wouldn't accept that either though," I sighed.
"Maybe if it's the only other option to being in a home."
"I don't know if it's the medication," my dad said sadly (referring to the pills he's been taking for his recent knee surgery that have been giving him some bouts of anxiety and depression), "but I don't think I could bear to watch them be put in a home. I just couldn't do it."
So, I lie awake last night, wondering how I'm going to trick my grandparents into bathing, and knowing that it will only be an uphill battle, and one of many. This will only be one bath, assuming I succeed. It will be even harder next time, if there actually is a next time, unless I'm too heartless to try again after whatever happens this weekend.