Over the weekend we made the hour trip to an outlet mall for some 4th of July shopping and deals. The outlet mall is pretty close to where my grandmother used to live and made me think back to fond memories I have from when I was a child through my adult years. My grandmother J has always been present in my life. My grandfather was too, but he passed away from ALS in 2000. She and my grandfather lived in a beautiful, yet comfortable home on a lake about an hour from our house. I spent A LOT of my childhood there, especially in the summers, playing with all my cousins, swimming in the lake and going out for boat rides while I watched my aunts, uncles, and older cousins water ski. In the winter, if it got cold enough, we would ice skate until we froze! It was fun. We always looked forward to going down to their house and spending a weekend, or a week. I have memories of going out on canoe rides around the lake, and fishing with my dad and grandfather. We would head to the local bait shop on a Saturday morning. I always made my dad bait my hook. I'd touch the fish, but no way would I touch the worms.
My grandmother would cook big meals for all of us to eat, at times there were 20 of us down there on a weekend, while my grandfather would grill the burgers and dogs after a long day of being out on the boat and swimming. They always had ice cream in their freezer for all of us kids to eat (11 grandchildren), homemade chocolate chip cookies, and would make a big batch of popcorn in the evenings for us to munch on while we watched TV. It didn't get much better than that.
In the years after my grandfather died, my husband and I spent a lot of time going "down to the lake", as we call it in our family, to visit with my grandmother. She was never a typical "old lady". In fact, she seemed so young, vibrant, and full of life you would have never guessed how old she was. She always kept up her appearance, was up to date on the latest fashion trends, and her makeup always looked perfect. We would sit in her living room and give each other pedicures. She loved to shop and we certainly did a whole bunch of that together. She shared my shoe addiction, and we'd ooh and ahh over different kinds of shoes. We also shared a love for gardening. She grew and tended to a traditional English Garden in the front of her house. It was beautiful, complete with boxwood's and roses. Whenever my husband and I would go down she and I would head off to an out of the way nursery because they had the best and most beautiful plants there. I loved spending my time with her. She always had interesting stories to tell and was full of family history knowledge.
In 2006 her beautiful home on the lake burned almost to the ground. This was devastating to our entire family, as this home held so many memories and good times. My husband, an architect, redesigned it to suit her needs and thinking about her aging built the master suite on the first floor, complete with a balcony for her to sit in the mornings and look out at the lake. We spent so much time there that year, working with the builder, picking out finishing touches, new furniture, paint colors, etc. The house was complete and she got to enjoy it for just two months before she suffered a massive stroke.
Did I mention how physically strong my grandmother is? She survived the stroke, but it left it's impact on her body, mind and speech. She fought damn hard at regaining her strength back, and worked on her speech. She was never able to go back to the house to live though. I think that's when I first started grieving my loss of her. After her stroke, she was never the same person. She was still sweet, and funny and beautiful, but very different too. I missed the grandmother I knew.
She was doing better for a little while and even able to live an assisted living apartment. But the last couple of weeks have not been so good. She was diagnosed with vascular dementia after the stroke. A type of dementia that occurs after a traumatic brain bleed. Lilli and I went to see her today. I prepared myself for her not knowing who we were and what she might be like during our visit. Nothing could prepare me though for what I would find. I went up to her and said hi. She smiled at me through those beautiful blue eyes of hers. I asked her if she knew who I was. She asked, "who"? I told her Steph. She looked off in the distance, like she was in a far away place. I spoke to her about how she was doing, and she kept repeating, Steph... Steph... She mumbled something to me I couldn't understand. Then she looked up at me and said, "Stephanie"! She then told me she loved me very much, and went back to mumbling. Tears started streaming down my face. I hugged her and kissed her and asked if I could rub her head. She seemed tired. I ran my fingers through her hair and told her how much I loved her and missed her and how she is such a special grandmother to me. She looked at me off and on. Still peering out in the distance. She cried. She appears to be in a state where she gets moments of lucidity back but knows something is terribly wrong. That must be terrifying.
We were able to get Lilli on the unit to visit with her and she lit up! We told her Lilli was her great granddaughter and she was very happy to hear that (she knew Lilli well before this stage progressed). It warmed my heart to see my daughter smile and play with my grandmother, just as she always has. My grandmother has always been so special to me, and I hold her close in my heart. It was time to go. Lilli and I told her we would be back to visit. She watched us get on the elevator and Lilli blew a kiss to her. I love my grandmother so much. This process is going to be so much harder that I thought it would. It really is painful to see someone you love suffer through something. Any prayers for her would be much appreciated.