Moving up the tree

My grandfather is dying. We don’t have a formal prognosis yet (my dad and my uncles & aunt will talk to the doctor this afternoon), but it’s clear that this man will not be with us for much longer. He asked to institute a no-resuscitation policy, and we’re pretty sure he won’t be able to go back to his apartment anymore.

It’s a little eerie that he took such a turn for the worse shortly after our marriage. It’s not like I’m his first grandchild to be married (he already has three great-grandsons, actually) but his failing health solidifies the feeling  I’ve had since we wedded – that we’ve shifted a rank in our respective family trees. I am now an aunt, for instance. And soon I will only have one last vestige of grantparenthood left. I hope Beloved will let me adopt his last living grandmother a bit – she’s awesome – then I’ll be back to two.

I’m not upset about my grandfather’s impending death. The man is in his nineties. He has fought in a big war, traveled far and wide and lost his spark a while ago.

As far as I know, he has been a most remarkable, caring husband. I remember him telling about his return from the war, seeing his fiancée (my grandmother) in the harbour. His face lit up, his eyes shone.. When my grandmother’s brain was slowly, irreversibly damaged by a rare syndrome, he was always by her side. He cared for her at home. By himself. Day and night.

He walked her to the bathroom whenever she said she had to go. Even when the syndrome caused her to be disoriented and lose track of time and she insisted that she had to go every five minutes he would put down whatever he was doing and help her. I know for a fact that for weeks upon weeks she was so worried about being incontinent that the two of them spent more time slowly shuffling back and forth between the bathroom and my grandmother’s chair than they spent doing anything else. An average bathroom trip starting taking twenty minutes, because the syndrome made her lose her motor skills and balance.

When she lost her ability to maintain a healthy sleeping pattern, he sat up with her whenever she was awake. The syndrome also caused dementia, but he dealt with it all. Only when his own health began to fail, did he, under pressure of his children, allow professionals to care for her. Even then, he visited her twice a day to help her eat and give her company.

It was sad to see how fast his world shrunk after she died. He had lost touch with many people due to the intense care he had to give her. He no longer went to the chess and checkers tournaments that he used to frequent. Eventually he placed an ad and found himself a new female friend, but no one is sure if that actually made him happy. We know she is often angry with him. She’s consistently rude to his daughter, the one who has been his most devoted carer. She has been rude to grandpa’s sons too, and quite outspoken about the fact that she does not care for his family. However, if she is not included in everything, she throws tantrums.

Hopefully we’ll be able to bring grandpa elsewhere from the hospital. It’s very unlikely that he’ll be able to live alone again, so if we’re advised to take him to a care facility, we would be able to bring him closer to us (and, simultaneously closer to his other sons and daughter).

While I don’t feel sad about losing my grandfather soon, I feel bad for my dad. If I can feel the shift in the family tree, then how must he feel? He’ll have no parents left alive. He has my mum, though. Yet another good marriage where the spouses feel that caring for each other is such a normal thing to do.

And that is how my grandfather’s failing health leads me to think about how lucky I am with my family and how fortunate I am that I have found a spouse with whom I firmly believe I can have a marriage in the tradition of my family.


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