Over my 23 years of life, I’ve been accused of a lot of things I didn’t do. Once in grade school I got accused of pocketing the extra pretzels after snack time. In high school my friend’s neighbor accused me of stealing their bike, which would’ve been particularly impressive considering I don’t even know how to ride the damn thing. Recently I’ve even been accused of stealing from a customer at work when I accidentally read her handwriting wrong and gave myself an extra 50 cents. Alright, I guess that’s a bad example because technically I did steal from her, but it wasn’t on purpose. Still, none of these accusations had properly trained me how to defend myself against the most outlandish one yet: “stop putting bugs in my food.”
As everyone who has probably talked to me once knows, I currently reside with my parents, my pet rabbit, and my 91-year-old Grandma who is more than a little senile. Ever since Grandpa passed away in 2000, Grandma has been coming to stay with us for at least 3 or 4 months a year, not to mention every vacation. Like my brother, Grandma was a night owl and her and Tony would stay up late playing cards and ordering room service. At 75 she hiked down a mountain to pan for gold in Alaska, and at 82 she was enraged that my dad wouldn’t let her go horse-back riding in the Poconos. However, in the past few years Grandma has started to show her age and after one too many falls last summer she moved in with us full time. We got boxes and boxes of her things from Rhode Island, but a little bit of her sanity seems to have stayed there.
Grandma is no longer easy to talk to. Most of the time she can’t hear what you’re saying, decides you’re saying something bad about her, and reacts accordingly. Other times she has the TV up so loud you can hear it from outside, but she tries to turn it up some more. She can’t remember names of people, places, or objects which makes it hard to help her when she’s on a mission to find something. Once, I was late for work because I found her looking in the coat closet for “that brown thing she uses.” Since she refuses to go outside, I knew she couldn’t possibly be referring to a coat, but it still took at least 30 minutes for me to realize she was looking for the prune juice, down the hall, in the fridge. Sometimes she sees cat faces floating in the air, and hears music when there isn’t any playing. The amount of little black fuzzies I’ve flushed down the toilet because Grandma swore they were bugs would be enough to knit a sweater. And yes, for one lovely week she refused to eat lunch because, like the horrible granddaughter I am, I kept poisoning her soup with bugs.
Worst of all though is knowing that at any point Grandma is just one fall away from seriously injury herself. Whenever I am home, I am hyper-aware of every noise or sign of movement. Is that the house creaking our Grandma trying to tap loud enough for someone to hear? It’s a weird sensation, not feeling 100% relaxed at home until my parents or someone elsearrives. When I used to be the first one home from work everyday I would spend a solid ten minutes sitting in my car, prepping myself to be prepared for whatever I was about to walk in to. On a good day, that means Grandma sitting safely in her chair, watching Walker Texas Ranger. On a medium day, it means a diaper hanging on the bathroom doorknob and Grandma sneaking upstairs to change her clothes. And on a bad day it means walking in to her stuck on the kitchen floor, not being able to get up or call for help. On bad days, those extra ten minutes in the car feel more selfish than I’d like to admit.
But it’s not all bad. Like I imagine an exhausted mother feels when the baby who’s been crying for hours smiles, the glimpses of Gram’s beautiful, youthful personality make the rest of the stuff so so worth it. Since she can no longer remember my name half the time, she calls me “pretty girl” and rubs my stomach every day to tell me “you’re really slimming down.” To her I’m the prettiest, smartest, nicest, most successful person she knows, regardless of reality. From an early age I learned how to laugh at myself from Gram, and she’s manages to keep that sense of humor even when she’s not sure what else is going on. She refuses to be “one of those old people,” and chooses to laugh when she does something ridiculous instead of getting frustrated. She critiques the food my mom cooks like it’s a five-star restaurant, and had us dying last night when she jokingly announced Mum was “all washed up.” She refers to Rory as “her buddy” and “the puppy dog” and I don’t think there is another rabbit in the whole world who is given more attention and unapproved snacks. Her favorite activity is playing cards, and she stresses about not being able to remember the rules. Naturally, that doesn’t matter one bit because she wins every. single. time. Her smile takes twenty years off her face, and she still spends more time smiling than not. All in all, being Gram’s sidekick and helping my parents take care of her is not a bad gig. It’s really not.
For over 60 years Grandma woke up every day and spent the whole time taking care of everyone else around her. That’s over half a century of being selfless and making sure her family had everything they needed or wanted. I feel like nowadays mothers have more things that they do other than being a mom and homemaker, which is probably 9430x healthier, but that wasn’t the case for Grandma. Every part of her life was about being a mom, a wife, a sister, a neighbor etc. Even now, she still tries to shuffle out to the kitchen and make me soup at the first sign of a cold. Or at the very least she tells my mom to. The point is, this is the type of person who has fully maxed out her karmic balance beam and deserves the absolute best end to her life we could possibly give her. As corny as it sounds, I am honored to have the opportunity to give back some of the love she spent her whole life doling out.
Now I just gotta try and remember that as I go and get my ass kicked in Rummy 500.