I ended up with "The Deep End" by Joy Fielding, likely one of the books I had picked up at the hospital gift store this past summer. Nothing like 50 cents for a paperback and a buck for a hardcover.
It turned out to be small but fairly mighty, sucking me in to stay up to finish it last night. Just your typical "everyone is having a mid-life crisis while some serial killer is out to kill the main female character" kind of thing. Doesn't sound too appealing, does it?
But it was well done or, at least, differently done. I've seen, heard, read enough about men's mid-life crises, their need for fast cars and younger women. This was written from the abandoned wife's point of view whose best friend, apparently, was going through her own mid-life crisis.
And yet, none of this silliness was what I wanted to write about. Our main character, Joanne, has a 95 year old grandfather in a nursing home. With dementia. Whom she faithfully visits every Saturday. Grandpa never knows her, of course, and really only ever opens his eyes to ask if his daughter, Joanne's dead mother, is there. Depressing, huh?
But at one point in the book, Grandpa opens his eyes and he is there. He recognizes and knows his granddaughter. Although fuzzy on some of the details, he is able to ask about her family. And then he asks if she has time to play gin rummy.
As a kid, Joane and her grandpa had played cards all time time. So this is huge for her. She frantically rushes around trying to find a deck of cards. Transported back to her childhood, they play three or four hands. But eventually, inevitably, she can see him start to tire and she has to talk him through every hand. Then he closes his eyes and is gone again.
Heartbroken, Joanne begs him to wake up. Unsuccessful, she holds his hand and shares all her troubles with him, this man who use to be her grandfather, just your typical, run of the mill "my husband has left me, my teenage daughters are driving me insane, I no longer know my best friend and I keep getting calls where someone is threatening to kill me" kind of thing. During this tirade, Grandpa opens his eyes and asks her if she would rather trade places with him.
Three pages later she gets a call from the nursing home telling her that her grandfather has died. "It had to happen sooner or later" Joanne says. "He was ninety-five. "
At which point it struck me ~ "But he gave you such a gift". I know a bit about dementia you see, my mother having passed away six months ago tomorrow (but whose counting?) after a year long battle with dementia and other health issues.
And how well I remember those gifts she gave us. Those times when she came back from wherever she was, to be herself, to be the Mom she always had been, was always meant to be.
It would happen so suddenly, so without warning, that the turn-around was always shocking. Filled with excitement and great hope each time, there was always an equal amount of trepidation. How long would it last this time? And would I finally be able to tell her, to express what I so desperately needed to?
I connected on a visceral level with Joanne as she scurried around asking the nurses for a deck of cards. As she shared those last few hands of cards with her grandfather. Because corny or not (okay, yeah, it was a bit corny), the book touched me at various levels. This one being the strongest.
Those times when a loved one temporarily leaves the fog of dementia, temporarily returns to be with you (invariably as if nothing had happened and they had never been gone and what's the big fuss all about?) are truly gifts. With every moment to be treasured. And carefully packed away for when they once again retreat to another world. Because they will.
Gifts to be taken out and looked at longingly in what at the time seems to be the hardest of times, the worst of all times, when they are still there but are no longer there. When you visit daily but miss them so much it physically hurts.
And, perhaps more importantly, to be taken out and polished, admired and cried over in what really is the worst of times, after they are gone. For those days when