And then one day it happened. Grace did what she always told us not to do.
Aunt Grace told everyone not to get old.
My parents took Grace to the doctor for a check up. She failed the dementia test. Soon after that, she was no longer able to take care of herself. My dad, despite all of his shortcomings as a father, was great with his elders. He became Grace’s primary caregiver. He stayed with Grace every night, except on weekends. My autistic brother Matt still lived at home and my mom worked full-time. At the time, I was staying home with my three kids that were between the ages of 4 and 9. I became the day time and weekend caregiver. One other caregiver worked day time hours and another did weekends.
Aunt Grace needed 24 hour care. The evenings were especially grueling since Grace would wake up at the minimum of three times a night to go to the bathroom. Some nights she was up every hour all night. She would scream until someone came and got her up. Over time, we tried sleeping pills at night. She would still wake up agitated and try to get up but be very uncoordinated. Sleeping pills were not a good option.
So the weekends I spent there, I was up all night with Grace getting at best a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Then my kids would wake up early. I was so exhausted. I had to be within two rooms away from Grace at all times because she would try to get up from her bed or rocking chair by herself and fall without assistance.
It was difficult to do with the kids because although Aunt Grace could not see well she had great hearing. If the kids made any noise at all, she would call them over so that she could flail her arms at them. She would yell at them and try to hit them. I often told the kids to leave her alone and set up a play room for them at the opposite end of the house. I find it sad that they remember her as a crabby old lady, not knowing the wonderful person she was before the dementia took over her person.
We spent a lot of time together. While we sat with Grace I helped my oldest daughter with her multiplication facts. Aunt Grace was a math wiz. She always jumped in with the answers before Angel could. But she didn’t remember our names. She didn’t know who we were. I spent a lot of time scrapbooking nearby. It was a time in my life where I was forced to sit in silence and reflect a lot.
By the time I became Aunt Grace’s caregiver, I had a lot of experience. Not only did I have 3 kids of my own, I provided care for my autistic brother. I worked my way through college as a caregiver for an older gentleman with paranoid schizophrenia and an elderly woman with dementia. So it really didn’t bother me that I also had to bathe Aunt Grace. After awhile when she could no longer stand in the shower, I helped give her sponge baths. She was pretty angry with me for bathing her since she was always cold. Even on the warmest summer days, she needed her electric blanket turned on high.
Our goal was to keep her at home as long as we could. It wasn’t easy because she was no longer the Grace that we remembered. In retrospect, even though it seemed like a long time while we were going through it, it really didn’t last that long. Plus it felt good to know that we did everything that we could to be there for her in her darkest hours even if she might not have realized it.