Today I took John and Vincent to see Nanny, John's paternal grandmother. She lives with one of her sons, Michael, who has taken on the lion's share of her care-taking. Recently, it's begun taking a toll on him and he confided that she's been wearing him down with her loneliness. She calls him around the clock and complains when he doesn't come home right away.
I offered to visit her with John and Vince for the few hours Uncle Mike needed to tend to the Church. He's a sacristan for his parish, and he enjoys feeling useful. It also gives him time away from home.
So today we went during the 9-12 time frame she's most lonely for Uncle Mike. Vince was angelic and lavished an impressive amount of affection on her. Vince is normally very affectionate, but wow. He must've had his sixth sense working overtime or something, because all he wanted to do was sit with her, share his toys with her, kiss her, or call her name. She thoroughly enjoyed the attention!
However, even with us being there, she reached out to call Uncle Michael twice. She also vented to John about her loneliness. My heart broke for her because I understood the situation for what it was. John, on the other hand, just got frustrated, thinking it was a guilt trip or some manipulation for future visits.
That broke my heart twice.
I told John the story of my own Grandmom and something horrible I did that I still regret to this day.
After my Grandfather passed away (he suffered from Alzheimer's), my Grandmother began to rely even more heavily on my mother for everything. Normally a sharp, attentive and independent woman, my Grandmother suddenly couldn't function without my Mom's guidance. Mom would get phone calls from Grandmom the second she came in from work. Mom would get phone calls that woke her up in the mornings. Mom would get phone calls moments after walking through the door after having spent the morning with her.
At this point, my mother was sick, herself, so couple her illness with my Grandmother's incessant loneliness and then add that 5 of her kids constantly needed attention and boom - she was ragged. I remember her being so tired all the time and I felt awful for her.
Well, one Sunday, after Mom had walked in from seeing Grandmom, I picked up the phone as it rang. I was upstairs in my Mom's room, so I had heard my Mom walk through the door.
(Ugh - I'm cringing as I write this as I recall my horrible, horrible reaction).
Grandmom was on the other line.
Now you have to understand something about me and my Grandmother - regardless of what anyone says, I was totally her favorite. She was mine, too, and we had an unspoken agreement to have each other's backs regardless of what was going on. She always gave it to me straight, and I appreciated her honesty, love and affection. I loved her like no other, and in my book, she could do no wrong...
... until the day I picked up that phone.
My Mom heard the phone ring and I could almost hear her entire body dread the inevitable "Mom, Grandmom wants to talk to you" that was coming. So instead of shouting that over the bannister, I told her I would take care of it. I asked Grandmom if I could help her with anything.
She said no, she just needed to talk to my Mom.
In what will forever be my most regretted utterance ever, I said, "Grandmom, what do you need Mom for? She was over there all morning, and she'll be back again tomorrow. She's really tired right now. I think you call too much."
(Seriously... now I'm crying because I realize what an awful, awful mistake I made.)
Grandmom was somewhat taken aback by my reaction and we somehow parted ways. I'm sure I said "I love you" in an attempt to ease the mean words I'd just said, but I know they hurt.
I was annoyed with Grandmom. Why did she need to bother my Mom so much? I understood she was lonely, but to be calling so much, so often, and for nothing? It was making me so annoyed for my Mom's sake.
A few months later, of course, we found out Grandmom also had Alzheimer's. I can't even express the depths of guilt I felt upon realizing that my anger and annoyance had been directed against my innocent Grandmother who honestly had no idea what was causing her emotional instability. Instead of patiently trying to offer her my understanding, I abruptly accused her (in my mind) of the same manipulation and guilt trips that John now accused Nanny of.
I saw all the signs today that I neglected to see as a teenager. I pointed out that Nanny was obviously confused on dates and the time of year, and I pointed out her apparent short-term memory fog regarding how often she'd attempted to call Uncle Mike while we were there.
John got quiet for a while after I told him how I'd handled my own Grandmom and what the signs his Nan was showing. I didn't want him to write her off as "too strong" or "too independent" for "this nonsense" like I'd done with my own Grandmother years ago. Instead, I was really hoping to help him understand that which I couldn't as a child - the people we love and look up to our whole lives sometimes can't remain the triumphant, unbreakable heroes we make them out to be. They, too, are human. They, too, succumb to age and illness. They, too, will one day be in need of our love and care - the same love and care we craved from them as they nurtured us into who we are.
With that in mind, I made a mental note to get over there once a week. I failed Grandmom in that regard - but maybe I can begin rectifying that mistake through Nanny.