So when we last left off, Kate and I were headed for Tucson. More specifically, we were headed to Green Valley
, a little retirement community a bit south of Tucson, and a bit north of Nogales
on the Mexican border.
My grandparents have had a summer home in Green Valley for many years now. I first visited them there when I was about 16. After my grandmother became ill, they moved to Green Valley year round and sold their Minnesota lake home to my uncle, Jack.
It was wonderful to see my grandpa again. It had been six years since I last saw him, despite my best attempts to visit with him the last few years. He's looking good, still healthy and active and very mentally aware. He's a little skinnier, has a slight tremor and a little more trouble getting out of a chair than he used to, but for an 86-year-old guy he's extremely mobile. He's a shark at competitive shuffleboard within the retirement community. He seemed delighted by Kate's antics and spent a lot of time just watching her or listening to her gab with a big grin on his face.
On the other hand, I wouldn't have recognized my grandmother. She's been confined to full-time care for the last six years. Her face is drawn, she's lost her ability to move and speak. She recognizes my Grandpa, who devotedly visits her every day, twice a day, and greets him with a laugh. The last thing Grandpa heard her say was a some weeks ago while a chipper young nursing aide was fussing with Grandma's hair trying to style it and chatting away to her about how she couldn't get it quite right, Grandma suddenly responded, "Who cares?" I had to laugh, that's my grandma. Grandpa speaks fondly of her being a "tough ol' gal" and it's touching and heartbreaking to see them together, him holding her hand or giving her a kiss and saying "See you later, honey." He brings her a Hershey bar as a treat every afternoon, and has a boxful of Hershey bars in his refrigerator just waiting to be doled out.
My grandpa knows everyone at the nursing facility. We couldn't walk 10 feet without someone greeting him or him greeting someone: other residents, other family members or friends of residents, staff, volunteers, you name it. He volunteers with the assisted living residents once a week, and he talks with some of the other lonely residents who have no one else to visit them. My esteem for him, which was high before, is now nearly indescribable. If you click this link
you will even see an image of him from a few years ago on the official website in the photo montage (that's him in the right-most photo). I am embarrassed to say that I can't recognize whether the woman in the picture is my grandmother, she has changed so much from how I remember her and has gone through so many stages of change between the woman I grew up with and the woman she is now. The woman with the balloons, however, is either a relatively recent picture of my grandma, or someone who looks exactly like her.
La Posada is a large facility
, with assisted living suites, a secure unit for dementia cases, and then a full-service nursing care facility for people like my grandma who are in the last stages of their diseases. Grandma has been in hospice care for 6 months now, hanging on much longer than anyone thought she would. When Grandpa first gave in and arranged for her to live at La Posada instead of at home, he thought she'd be able to move to an assisted living apartment. He left her that evening, unpacking and putting things away, but within a few hours of his leaving, Grandma took off and they found her wandering on the road a couple miles from home. It was a staff person who had met her that day who noticed her walking on the road and offered her a ride. When Grandma wouldn't get in the car, this woman stayed with her while her daughter called the sheriff. Poor Grandpa got a call to come get her that very night. It was the first time she'd ever wandered (at their home she would stay home while Grandpa went to shuffleboard and so on, no problem) but it meant she had to go into the secure unit instead of assisted living. They moved her out of the assisted living apartment the next day. Before she lost her ability to walk, she would wander in and out of the rooms in the secure unit, cleaning and reorganizing everyone's things. Luckily, the staff attitude was "It's her house, let her clean and we'll put things back in order later."
Grandma was keenly interested in Kate. She perked up and spent a lot of time watching Kate playing or walking around (as we took Grandma on a stroll around the grounds in her wheelchair). She was always a very active woman, always cleaning and straightening her house, working in her garden, crocheting, tatting
, painting, you name it. It was so hard to see her hands, crippled and clenched.
My aunt Joanne says she thinks Grandma's time is about up. Even though she's healthy, she's starting to lose weight. Her body seems to be just slowly giving out. My family isn't terribly communicative, so until last month I had no idea that my aunt Dolly and Uncle Jack had come down for a month-long visit in March, or that my dad and step-mom had taken a golf trip to Phoenix and come down to visit Grandma a few weeks ago. My cousin Connie visited with her new baby in October, and I, independently of all of this, scheduled a trip as well. Joanne sees this as an omen, as if the family has been called back one by one to say our goodbyes. I'm so glad I made this trip, as heartbreaking as it was at times. I'm grateful that Kate was able to meet her great-grandma, and see a little of grandpa's devotion to her in her final days.
Labels: family, travel