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The language of dogs

My mother told me while we were at the gym this morning that my uncle reported yesterday that the dog won't leave my grandmother's side.

I immediately knew what this meant, and I almost lept out of the scissor kick excercise I was doing to give her a hug.

My 90 year old grandmother has been suffering from Alzheimer's for about five years now, and she's been steadily deteriorating. Despite her chronic lifelong hypochondria, she's been otherwise healthy. Alzheimer's is a pretty horrific disease in and of itself, though, and I am hard pressed to determine if it's worse on the patient or on those around the patient. My grandmother moved in with my uncle when she could no longer really take care of herself, and its been in the last year that she's needed round the clock care. Their community has some pretty decent social services for the elderly, and a woman named Lisa comes every day to stay with my grandmother until my uncle gets home from work.

It's been pretty hard on my mother. My grandmother can't remember a lot of details about her life, and conversations on the telephone are confusing and somewhat looping. My mother often corrects my grandmother on facts like how many children my grandmother has, how many grandchildren, etc. I think she wants to help my grandmother remember. When I talk to my grandmother, I generally let her believe whatever it is she thinks, since I think it's easier on my grandmother even if it's difficult for me to follow the conversation string. I don't expect her to remember that I'm the lawyer and no longer in school. I don't expect her to remember which disembodied voice she is talking to. Jose and my mother went to see her last spring, and both said it was pretty hard. I don't think my grandmother knew who Jose was, and she was vaguely confused about my mother, too. My mother came back from that trip a little shaken.

My uncle is a saint. He does everything he can to ensure that my grandmother is taken care of and comfortable. I don't think he's had time off from her for at least seven years, and every hour that he's not at work, he's spending on her care. I'm pretty sure that it would have been easier for her to go to a nursing home instead of living with him, but he's fought that tooth and nail and he's done a remarkably good job at it. Still, I can't imagine that this hasn't taken a massive toll on him.

Lately, I've gotten the impression that she's deteriorated faster. My mother says that the only thing my grandmother will do now is eat. She no longer reads, watches TV, does puzzles, talks with those around her. She's not quite catatonic, but pretty close. A few weeks ago, my uncle started making moves to talk to funeral homes and arranging for the church in my grandmother's hometown to get ready. My mother asked me to put the obituary together. If I can write one for Holden, I can certainly write one for my grandmother.

I think everyone is feeling a weird sense of anticipation mixed with relief mixed with guilt mixed with sadness. These last years have been really hard, and my grandmother hasn't made them easier. She's been combative and suspicious and confused and totally and completely dependent.

My uncle's dog usually waits for him by the front door to come home for work. But now, he won't leave my grandmother's side, even when my uncle calls. It was sort of strange, I thought, that all of us knew that the dog's behavior probably means my grandmother has very little time left. The dog can tell. And because the dog can tell, so can the rest of us. We just knew.

The last time I saw my grandmother was in Taos in 2003. We spent a week together there with my mother, and then she and I flew back to Houston and I helped her get on the plane to Philadelphia. I think I will next see my grandmother in the next few weeks in Pennsylvania in her coffin.

Comments

( 13 comments — Say something )
rainbow
Sep. 9th, 2010 05:39 pm (UTC)
*hugs* *love* *gentle passing vibes for your grandmother*

my gramma had alzheimers, too, and you're right. it's horrid and hard on everyone.

i'm so glad your uncle's dog let him know the time is getting close so you could all prepare.

xoxoxoox

c
fallconsmate
Sep. 9th, 2010 05:46 pm (UTC)
my parents had two dogs nearly always...a minature dachshund, and then a bigger dog. the last big dog was barney, a great pyranese mountain dog. big furry beast.

he was a scaredy cat, and nervous of most people...but he'd come and sit by my grandmother and wait for her to pet him. she passed away easter sunday three years ago, at the age of 94. he passed a couple weeks ago. i like to think she's giving him ear skritches right now.

*hugs* losing a grandparent is hard to do. i'm just glad we got the chance to see her (my son and i) about two weeks before she died.
raithen
Sep. 9th, 2010 05:56 pm (UTC)
Pyrs are amazing - they don't give their attn to anyone, but when they choose you, they are fiercely loving and loyal. Sorry you all lost Barney.
fallconsmate
Sep. 9th, 2010 06:00 pm (UTC)
thank you. i felt honored that he loved on me when i was at my parents' house. he was a good ol puppy dog, 8 years old. and *now* we are pretty sure why he died...

heartworms. the dachshund was just diagnosed with a raging case of them, so we're sure since shorty (doxie) and barney were living together, he probably had them too. preventatives, ESPECIALLY if you have outdoor-mostly dogs here in the southern bits of texas.
raithen
Sep. 9th, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC)
May peace be with you and yours in this challenging time. (Sorry to sound like a greeting card, but the sentiment is heartfelt).

Also, it is wonderful that you all hear and listen to your dogs - their insight on these issues (and others) is so amazing.
popgurlie
Sep. 9th, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC)
oh sweetheart. i send you and your family, and most definitely the dog, my love.
gttygrl
Sep. 9th, 2010 06:18 pm (UTC)
:-( I'm so sorry for you and your family.
samtosha
Sep. 9th, 2010 06:45 pm (UTC)
It is a horrendous kind of anticipation. A peaceful passing for her and comfort to the rest of you!
moppety
Sep. 9th, 2010 10:03 pm (UTC)
I'm so sorry for what your family has had to go through, and I wish your grandmmother a gentle passing.

*hugs*
shehawken
Sep. 9th, 2010 11:37 pm (UTC)
I pray for comfort for you and your family as you wait. And I hope your grandmother finds peace in her constant companion.
madjack
Sep. 10th, 2010 07:59 am (UTC)
((HUGS))
I am so sorry to hear about your grandmother. Alzheimer's is such a horrible disease. My grandfather, grandmother, and older cousin had it and now my mom does. It does shake you to the very fibers of your being, when they don't even know who you are anymore. Thankfully my mom is taking medication that will slow down the disease and I pray everyday for a cure.

Your Uncle sounds awesome. He is traveling a difficult road. I hope he recovers and is able to move on with his own life.

((HUGS)) I just wish I could hug you. I have experienced what you are experiencing now. Take care.

LJ
(Deleted comment)
datawhorevoyeur
Sep. 14th, 2010 11:17 am (UTC)
I think everyone is feeling a weird sense of anticipation mixed with relief mixed with guilt mixed with sadness. These last years have been really hard, and my grandmother hasn't made them easier.

This. Exactly.

I wish I could give you a hug...
( 13 comments — Say something )

'stina

'stina is, surprisingly enough, a lawyer from Houston, Texas who rambles about quite a number of things.

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