Monday, December 21, 2009

Musings on G'ma

One year ago, G'ma was in the rehabilitation hospital trying not to melt into the bed. Friday night she was in the middle of the Happy Ladies Club cocktail party in my living room. If I'm going to beat myself up when she rolls off the couch, I'm going to have to remember to revel in the times she's up and out and having fun.

G'ma's a member of the Club, and we've been to luncheons and, of course, she's the cheerleader when we bowl. Not that she remembers any of this, but the women who've been there with us all recognize her limitations and they've learned to create conversations in which she can participate. The bowling ladies all spent time yakking with her and my hiking buddies each made a special effort to wonder why she didn't hike with us...... which led to G'ma demonstrating her exercise routine (bending and unbending her index finger) and laughing. Laughing is good.

Those who didn't know her were respectful of her short term memory issues and talked about old times and the here and now and then wandered away. And there she sat, Sprite Zero with a straw in one hand, a plate of cookies resting on her lap, and her eyes sharp as they ever were.

And she sat and she watched and she judged. From her comfy chair right in the middle but not in the way (just as she'd like it if she gave it any thought) she had the perfect vantage point to scan the crowd and make her internal pronouncements. TBG and I knew what she was thinking as her eyebrows moved over her forehead and her head gave those almost imperceptible shakes and her mouth smiled then pursed then disapproved, but I'm certain no one else could tell that anything was going on at all. But it certainly was.

We'd been to the luncheon/gift exchange at her pod-castle that afternoon. With the list of the caregivers' names our only guide, we'd thought and pondered and cogitated and deliberated and considered and rejected and discarded dozens of ideas. The facility has a "no cash gifts" policy, and that extended to gift certificates and those pretty credit card gift cards from Target and Barnes and Noble and Home Depot. Handkerchiefs, candy, perfume, picture frames.... we decided on body wash, puffs and a blessing charm in pretty bags with tissue paper and pretty tags. Walmart and the Beauty Warehouse and the grocery store...... not nearly as much fun as shopping for this kind of thing would have been in Marin or in Chicago but I'm in Tucson and I love it even if the shopping is boring.

The luncheon was a pot-luck buffet and it had the usual array of pizza, chicken and rice casseroles, Swedish meatballs and deviled eggs. I'd love to know who thought that spare ribs was an appropriate addition to the festivities..... one cannot really use utensils to eat a rib, and greasy fingers combined with 80 years of life on the planet leads to some interesting experiences.

G'ma eats with the same 3 ladies at every meal. One says nothing. One introduces herself as "completely deaf" despite the 2 industrial-strength hearing aids she's sporting. The third defines querulous. The deaf lady and G'ma exchanging winks over the whispering, whining, wondering tablemate between them was a sight to behold. G'ma would answer her questions or suggest solutions and she'd sigh and tell us why it wouldn't work and the deaf lady, though missing the words, knew what was going on and she and G'ma rolled their eyes, subtly, as the middle one tried to get the food into her mouth. They may be old, but they've retained their edge. After asking me if I was the daughter, deaf-but-feisty looked straight at G'ma and said, "I know enough not to ask you" and they shared a laugh.

It was the kind of laugh women whose brains are functional within limits they'd never imagined and whose bodies don't respond to the commands those brains are sending laugh. The kind of laugh that would be a cry if they were querulous but instead is realistic and acknowledging and rueful and honest. Because it is what it is whether they laugh or they cry.

And it's much more pleasant to be around them when they're laughing.

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