Dementia

Posted in Uncategorized on December 22, 2008 by tonywaggoner

I have fond memories of my Grandmother, Martha Waggoner. She was my father’s mother, and he was an only child. When I was a kid, I used to love pumpkin pie. Everything Thanksgiving and Christmas, my Grandmother would make the best pumpkin pies, and if everybody else didn’t watch out, I would eat the entire thing. So, my Grandmother started making me a pie that was mine only. 

She was a vibrant woman, who had the biggest laugh. It, literally, could shake the room. I remember how much she loved to play cards, especially Bridge. I had no idea, and still have no idea, what Bridge is. All I know is that a lot of older folks love to play it. Rumor had it, she often was so good at Bridge that the other ladies would accuse her of cheating. Of course, they were only joking. She had a lot of great friends in Independence, KS, where she lived for almost all of her life and where my mother and father were both born. 

My Grandfather was an alcoholic, and he could often be very mean. The two of them couldn’t have been more strikingly different. He, the wise, sarcastic and somewhat bitter man, and, she, the kind-hearted, soft and graceful woman. 

He died about 10 years ago, just after the onset of Dementia began to creep in on my Grandmother. She was checked into a nursing home, where she would remain for the rest of her life.

She was isolated from her family and isolated from her friends, not because they and we didn’t visit her, but because Dementia slowly began to take her away from who she was.

She had also battled diabetes for most of the latter part of her life, and eventually she needed the care of Hospice.  She travelled from nursing home to nursing home. 

Modern medicine worked its miracle on her, keeping her alive for 10 years, while she slowly digressed into her own head. We would go visit her, and I could never tell if she realized who I was.

I always wondered how and what she thought. Could she think like she used to, or was she simply trapped inside there, unable to let that part of her that was so sweet and caring out? 

She could barely speak, and when we would go visit our conversations would take on the form of how you would speak to a child. It was the “Martha, do you know who this is? This is Tony,” type of discussion. She would just stare blankly. Sometimes, it would appear that she broke a smile, but it rarely lasted long enough to give you much hope. 

What I remember most about those visits was when we were leaving. She would finally formulate a sentence, and it was usually something like, “don’t leave me here.” She was alone, scared and, most of all, trapped inside her own head. 

Around 2003 or 2004, she began the process of trying to escape. She could  or would no longer feed herself, so she would have to be spoon fed. She fought very hard to not let them feed her, but eventually she lost, and so on she went with her life, stranded in a place that I doubt she knew, almost catatonic. 

My father has always been a strong man. He has always provided the support our family needed and accepted the financial burden of the family. If my mother is the heart by which my family beats, than my father is the legs it stands on. 

I wondered how he looked at my Grandmother. Here was the woman who raised him, the woman who cheered loudly at every one of his sporting events and the woman who helped shape him into a great man and father. How did he look at her now? How could he have known this would be what would happen to her? What, now, did he pray for his mother? At night, alone, did he see her as the person who raised him or the person she had now become? Did it become a burden to him, knowing there was nothing that could be done to bring her back? 

Death, became my Grandmother’s only hope. It became her final struggle and her only chance at freedom. She had now lived inside her head for almost 10 years, struggling each day to remember where she was and who she was. She probably couldn’t have struggled to remember anything else, so we may have been out of the question. 

On Jan. 29, 2008, my mother’s 60 birthday, my Grandmother won her fight. She died after living an additional 10 years that she probably never should have lived. This beautiful, vibrant woman with the largest laugh I could possibly ever remember did not deserve to end her life this way. 

Modern medicine has found a way to keep us alive longer, but sometimes, I think, it isn’t the miracle it has been made out to be. It certainly wasn’t in my Grandmother’s case. Nobody deserves that kind of end, especially not somebody who spent her life living in goodness. 

Her funeral was extremely sad for me. Before I left her for the final time, I bent down and kissed her forehead, knowing that her death was the right thing to happen. She was finally at peace, and I know God granted her grace. I just hope she finally was able to laugh again. Someday, if I see her again, I would expect that she will probably welcome me with open arms and a pumpkin pie or two in her hand.