Friday, February 17, 2012

Losing Grandma, part 4

Last night I was not a good granddaughter.  I'm not perfect.  There was a flash mob at a local bar for my high school class and I went. I was only going to stay an hour and I didn't get home until midnight.  A lot of people knew about my grandma from Facebook and gave condolences.  I was still sick too.  But I missed the formal reunion in 2007 when my dad died; I didn't want to miss an informal one because of my grandmother.  Staying home wouldn't have made my grandma alive again.
I did write the eulogy before I left.  It was hard to sleep when I got home, I was keyed up from drinking a lot of ginger ale (sugar--I usually drink diet Pepsi) and from seeing so many old friends.  When I got up this morning I went to print the eulogy and my desktop computer had crashed and my laptop (where I wrote it) isn't connected to the printer.  It's still crashed; I had to print from my husband's desktop.  Another thing to deal with.
My husband has caught my illness and I feel really bad about that.  So he was home sick in bed while I was out with my old friends.  This morning he was dragging and had to deal with dressing up and driving me and my mom to the funeral home at 9 a.m.
Grandma looked great in the casket.  The funeral director had plumped out her cheeks a little and she actually had a smile on her face, like it was a big joke that instead of celebrating her birth we were celebrating her death.  I think she looked so nice because she didn't suffer.  She was basically dead at my mom's house and they just kept her body alive for another day.
The visitation/service was very nice.  A lot of people came, probably close to 50.  Only one of my friends, but I didn't expect anyone to take time off from work.  My mom's work friends and walking friends and best friend.  My mother in  law and my husband's sister and her fiance.  My mom's cousins and some of their kids.  A few of my grandma's surviving friends. One of my cousins is now a hair dresser and is going to do my hair--it's freaky because she was born when I was in high school or college, I could be her mom.  I think she's the youngest of our generation.
And one surprise.  My grandpa had one sibling left, his sister Elsie.  I wanted to find her.  I did find her online in North Branford but I don't have a North Branford phone book and my mom said not to pursue it because she wouldn't come.  My grandma had sent her a letter and never gotten a response.  I felt really bad about not calling her; I thought she'd want to know her sister-in-law had died.  Then toward the end of the viewing in walks this tiny ancient lady with a cane, being held up by her son, and my mom almost fell out of her chair.  It was Aunt Elsie.  I hadn't seen her in probably 20 years, if not longer.  Obviously she saw the obituary in the paper.
The priest knew my grandma and I was really expecting something great from him, but he read basically the exact same thing as the chaplain did on Tuesday--my father's house has many mansions and the new version of the 23d Psalm which hasn't got the resonance of the King James version. Nothing personal. We invited him for lunch but he declined.  I read my eulogy (below) and then her brother spoke extemporaneously, from the heart, about what a hard worker my grandma was, how his earliest memories are of her going off to work at a shirt factory where she was paid piecework to pin and iron shirts, standing up all day, to help support the family during the Depression.  He talked about special foods she used to make--icebox cake and fruitcake--and how he looked forward to eating both, as they both had to mature before being eaten.  He did choke up a few times but ultimately he was okay, as we all are.
The service at the grave site was very short, basically just a prayer of farewell.  She's with my grandpa again, body and soul.  There's one spot left in the plot for my mom (and my dad's ashes).
The food at the restaurant was very good, we had about 20 people at 4 tables and everyone enjoyed everything.  We stayed there about 2 hours.
Now I've got to bring my cats to the vet, and my mom's going to come along, and we're going to make a side trip back to the cemetery to take some of the roses.
Rest in peace, Grandma.  I love you.  Say hi to my dad and Grandpa and Aunt Bert and everyone.  Hug and kiss all the animals.  

The last time I talked with my grandma was Sunday night.  She seemed to be in a good mood.  We were playing a word game, and when my mom took the letter she wanted, my grandma sassed her, saying “Oh, why don’t you just go home!” and laughing.
We made plans for her 94th birthday next week.  She didn’t care that she was going to be 94—“It’s just another day” she said.  I asked her where she wanted to go eat on Friday—today—and she waved her hands and said “I’m happy to go anywhere” and we decided on Red Lobster because she likes the shrimp.  But then I guess she made other plans without telling me, and she’s having lunch somewhere else today, without us. 
My grandma was a generous woman.  She worked a Mike-Rowe-worthy dirty job at a cigar factory for almost 30 years (and because of my exposure to that cigar factory, I will always love the smell of raw tobacco) and never complained even when her hands turned yellow from handling the giant bales of leaves.  At night, with those same tired discolored hands, she would knit, crochet, sew, and tat the most incredible lace.  When she retired, she donated the skill of her hands to the North Haven Senior Center.  They would give her material and yarn and patterns and she’d make quilts and lap robes and bags and funny little dolls for them to give away or sell.  Some of the material and yarn was ugly and yet she put the same care into the finished product as she did with the prettier goods.  My hands look just like hers, but I was never able to pick up even rudimentary knitting skills, unfortunately. 
My grandma taught me not to be afraid of ghosts.  That sounds weird, I know.  But when I was little, my grandparents moved into a haunted house.  It was not an old creaky spooky mansion, just a regular ranch house where the previous owner had died, but not moved on.  Her name was Mrs. Winters.   Mrs. Winters would walk up and down the cellar stairs and rattle door knobs and that was about as menacing as she ever got.  In fact I believe she was a kindly ghost, because when I slept there, she would cover me up.  I was never afraid of her because my grandparents were so matter-of-fact about her presence. I suppose I thought everyone’s grandparents lived in a haunted house.  I believe that when my grandpa died there, he took Mrs. Winters with him, because I never felt or heard her again.
My grandma was quirky and generous.  When I was a teenager, she sat me down and said if I ever wanted to try a cigarette or to drink alcohol, she would buy it for me and share it with me.  She didn’t want me sneaking around and getting in trouble.  I think that’s exactly why I never did—because of her offer.  It might not have been “cool” to smoke or drink with Grandma, but I never felt the urge to sneak booze with friends either.
I had a bad cough every winter for most of my life, and she made me a bottle of homemade cough medicine.  She drew a label that looked like a pharmacy sticker, with infinite refills and the ingredients.  She liked everything to be hand-made when possible.  When my friend had a baby a few years ago, my grandmother crocheted a receiving blanket as a gift.  My friend entered it into the Durham Fair, and it won a prize, which she gave to my grandma, who was shocked that anyone would think her simple blanket was worth any honors.
If you know me well, you know I inherited something else from my grandma besides her hands.  She was stubborn.  When I was little, she had a fancy red coat.  When something happened that made her angry, she spoke up. She’d put on that coat and go to whatever place she was upset with, and speak her mind.  When we said Grandma was “putting on her red coat” we meant “going on the warpath.”  I don’t have a red coat, but I’ve been known to venture down that warpath a time or two!  My grandma’s red coat is long gone, but she never stopped speaking her mind or being stubborn.  When her doctors told her to take her blood pressure medicine or she would have a stroke, she said she didn’t care.  She made her choice.   She was ready to go.
She lived almost 94 years.  She had slowed down a bit toward the end, but she was still mentally agile—when I took her to the bank recently, her checkbook was only off by less than a dollar—and she didn’t need help with anything.  Only her very last day on Earth wasn’t a good one, and trust me, it was only a bad day for her body.  Her soul was already gone.  She had 34,324 good days and who can ask for more than that?

Lena Gresto Nana
February 23, 1918
February 15, 2012

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Losing Grandma, part 3

You know your family has been using the same funeral home too long when you call and they know who you are.  "Oh honey you sound terrible, take care of yourself.  Go back to bed."  I'm still sick as a dog, this isn't right.
Went shopping with mom for funeral clothes and spent $30 at Wal-mart on ginger ale and various cold remedies. 
The obituary is in the paper and online at the funeral home.
Text (I left in the errors, I'm too sick to deal with them):

February 23, 1918 - February 15, 2012

Lena Gresto Nana, 93, of 191 Pool Road, North Haven, passed away Wednesday, February 15, 2012 at MidState Medical Center, Meriden. She was the beloved wife of the late Louis A. Nana. Born in West Haven on February 23, 1918; daughter of the late Adelino Gresto, Sr. and Santina Petrucci Gresto. A resident of North Haven since 1922; Lena had worked at the former Uhl Cigar Company for 29 years until her retirement; was a very active member of the North Haven Senior Center where she did numerous charitable works including knitting and crocheting; was a volunteer exercise coordinator and a parishioner of St. Barnabas Church. Mother of Ann-Shirley Rizza of Wallingford. Grandmother of Roberta Piedmont and her husband William. Sister of Albert J. Gresto of Fullerton, CA and the late Andrew and Adelino “Joe” Gresto, Jr. Also survived by nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews. Predeceased by her son-in-law Robert Rizza Funeral services will be conducted in North Haven Funeral Home, 36 Washington Avenue, Friday morning at 11:00. Family and friends may call from 10:00 until time of service. Interment will follow in the North Haven Center Cemetery. Should friends desire memorial contributions may be made to the CT Hospice, Inc., 100 Double Beach Rd., Branford, CT 06405.

We don't know if she would have changed the hospice donation to Alzheimer's in honor of my dad, so we left it as is; the assumption is that she was thinking of my grandpa (who died of cancer and hospice came to the house and helped care for him as he died)--she designed her obituary in 1997.  Honestly, make a donation to either if you wish, they both do good things for sick people.
Tomorrow at this time we'll be at the restaurant eating and remembering Grandma and it will all be over.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Losing Grandma, Part 2

When we got to the hospital yesterday, my grandma was in ICU & they initially said only 2 people could visit her at a time, and then they allowed my husband in also.  My grandmother was totally unconscious, IVs in both arms, breathing tube in, monitors hooked to everything.  She actually didn't LOOK bad--she wasn't blue around the lips or nails, her face wasn't sunken in, her eyes were still prominent.  But she was completely unresponsive.  Her hands were very cold, not death cold but close, and stayed however I molded her fingers.  Although the doctor had called my cell phone earlier (while I was in Stop and Shop), saying he wanted a "family meeting" no such meeting really took place.  People in scrubs (doctors, nurses, PA, who knows) wandered in and out and some of them spoke to us.  The bottom line was that the bleed in my grandma's brain was pretty much total.  She wasn't quite brain dead, but only a step above.  There was absolutely no hope of recovery.  Even though all that was true, they had still brought in a neurosurgeon to consult on the case.  My mom put the kabosh on that, she's almost 94 and nearly brain-dead, don't go messing around in her head at this point.
I have a theory on what happened that night.  I think that she had the stroke early in the night, maybe midnight.  My mom said she was partway across the bed; perhaps she was getting up to use the bathroom (which she normally did between 11 and midnight) and had the stroke then, silently.  She lay there unconscious or unable to call for help until the bleed spread so far it impacted her breathing, which woke my mom up around 3:30.  Ironically, across town, I was awake too, sick as a dog, not even thinking of my grandma, just searching for medicine.  Perhaps if it had happened Sunday at the dinner table, we could have saved her.  We'll never know.
I thought that "pulling the plug" on someone would be an involved process involving paperwork and possibly lawyers or people in suits at any rate, lots of "are you sures" (like when you delete a file from your computer).  But my mom said, "We want to remove the breathing tube," and the (person in scrubs) only nodded and then immediately starting unhooking everything. Very nonchalant.  I kinda freaked out.  I found out they'd had no priest give her last rites and now they were unplugging her like she was a toaster.  I didn't like that.
They unplugged everything but the tube and found the hospital chaplain, a lovely little woman who told us that a priest had actually been there until 1:30 but due to the time my grandma came in she hadn't been on the list.  I have no idea if they got her a priest in time, but the chaplain said she had a prayer just for unhooking machines.  She brought her assistant and gave us copies and we all read it aloud.  It had the "my father's mansion has many rooms" Bible bit and the 23d Psalm, which I love, but it was the new-school version, which I don't like much.  Give me King James any day for that solemn stuff.  There was a part about "enlightening the pagans" which did make me grin and nudge my husband when I said it (being that we're pagans).
The person who brought in the respiratory therapist to actually unhook the breathing tube said her guess was that my grandmother wouldn't die instantly.  I tended to agree.  She was unhooked at 3:50 p.m.  Immediately her breathing became loud and labored, her shoulders were lifting with each breath.  Her oxygen saturation with the tube had only been around 70 so I can't imagine it was any better breathing on her own.
We stayed until 4:30 and there was no change.  But it was clear to me that my grandma wasn't there anymore.  She was actually even more gone than my dad had been--at least he would squeeze my hand once in a while, and when I brought the dog and put his hand on the dog, he'd pet him.
And of course it was awful for my mom.  Although my dad wasn't on machines, we did have to make decisions that were, in essence "kill him" and saying "take out the tube" is the same order.  It's only been 4 1/2 years since we went through all this with my dad.  My grandma's mother lived to be 99 and we kinda expected, in our hearts, for her to follow that path.
Then again, she refused to take her blood pressure medicine.  This summer the doctor told her right out that her next stroke would kill her or put her in a nursing home and my grandma said "I don't care" so she got her wish right?
We went to my mom's house.  My husband's mom came by with a bag of Chinese food (we couldn't go out to eat--it was Valentine's Day, remember!) and we sat around with cell phones and made calls, leaving the house phone open for call-backs.  My grandmother's last living brother was devastated.  I really think my mom should have called him at 6 a.m. when she originally got home from the hospital and not waited 12 hours.  Yes, he's in California with a time difference but maybe he would have wanted to hop a plane and get there before we pulled the plug?  That's one thing I don't agree with how my mom handled it.  He called back, begging my mom "Are you sure she can't get better?  Maybe she'll wake up."  No one wants their sister to die even if she's 93.  Since we couldn't tell him when she would die, or when the funeral would be, he decided to come Thursday through Tuesday.
We left my mom's house around 7 and I crashed.  I am so sick.  My ear infection has spread to my sinuses and the pressure and pain across my face is unreal.  I need about 2 days in bed with a bottle of Nyquil and it's not going to happen.
My mom had already taken a shower and gotten ready for bed when my grandmother's sister in law (her baby brother's wife) and her 3 daughters showed up after visiting the hospital.  My aunt was insistent that my grandmother "looked good and was breathing fine".  (She's a great one for denial, when her husband was dying of a brain tumor a few years ago she kept saying he was getting better.)  Her daughters contradicted her.
I woke up at 2:04 a.m. and unlike the night before, I knew.  I looked around, closed my eyes and felt around, but I couldn't feel her.  I took more medicine, went to sleep again, and wasn't surprised when my mom called at 6 a.m. to say the hospital  called her at 2:20.  But like me, she had already been awake.  I think 2:04 was when she actually passed.
We had an 11 a.m. appointment at the funeral home which went well because my grandma had paid for everything in 1997 and laid out exactly what she wanted.  All we had to do was update her obituary and pick out her prayer card.  Plus that funeral home has handled everyone in my mom's family forever; he's a friend of the family as well as the funeral director.  He made it very easy.  I had some pictures of my grandma on my cell phone and he picked which ones to use for make-up and agreed with our choice for her obituary (the one I used above).  The funeral is Friday, no wake the night before, no church, everything at the funeral home.  My grandma even paid for a limo.
We picked a local restaurant to host the after-funeral gathering (my mom's dog is too crazy and her house too small, as we found out when my dad died) and spent an hour there (and $800) planning that.  Another $800 on flowers and then we all went home until Friday, and I crashed again, and woke up to have some soup and write this.
I've always noticed that my grandma, my mom and I have (had) the same hands. I didn't have my phone with me on Sunday and I decided to take the "3 hands" picture on Friday when we all went out for grandma's birthday.  Well we're all going out on Friday for lunch, but it's nothing like we planned! (The chaplain suggested wryly when we told her about the Friday birthday lunch, "Obviously Lena made other plans for that day!")  I had to take the 3 hands picture with an essentially dead grandma.  But I got it.  I have no children.  Never again will these hands grace the world once my mom and I are gone.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

losing grandma, part 1

I was awake at 3 a.m. and beyond this morning.  I was sick, I've got a cold and an ear infection.  First thing this morning I rescheduled the cats' vet appointment so I could stay home all day and just be sick in bed.  (And I called the doctor about my ear.)  Moments later, my mom called me.  She said she had "bad news" and I knew it was death but I thought it was the dog or cat or some distant relative (last summer, for instance, one of my second cousins went on a "vision quest" and was found dead under a tree three weeks later with an uneaten banana and a bottle of water, and a few years ago my mom's cousin was a Memorial Day weekend motorcycle fatality statistic).
But no, not so distant. Apparently around 3:30 (as I was lying awake plotting my sick day), my mom was woken up by "a god-awful noise" coming from my grandmother's room, like a rattling gasping for breath.  When she went in, my grandmother was unresponsive with fixed eyes.  She called 911 and the fire department intubated (sp?) her and brought her to the hospital.
Grandma had a "massive stroke"--the one the doctors had been warning her would happen if she didn't take her blood pressure medicine.  Of course she always laughed them off and went right on taking 1/4 of a pill instead of whatever her real dosage was.  She'd had a minor stroke a while back and my mom called me out of work and it ended up being nothing that serious (that was when she moved in with my mom, 4 1/2 years ago, right before my dad died).
But this one, yeah, this is it.  My mom told me right out at 8 this morning "she's not going to make it this time."  She's on a respirator.  If the EMTs hadn't put the tube in her she'd be dead already.  They did a  scan of her brain and it's massive bleeding everywhere (like my dad after he hit his head) no chance of recovery. I don't want a vegetable for a grandma.  I had one for a dad and I didn't like it one bit.
I called the funeral home and had them pull the paperwork for my grandma's prepaid funeral (from 1987 when her husband died)--why my mom couldn't think to do that, I don't know, but they appreciated the heads-up.  I don't know if my mom has called my grandma's brother or sister-in-law.  I told my godmother (my grandma's niece).
I just never know what to do while in death limbo.  Call everyone and say "she's gonna die" and then tomorrow or the next day call and say "she died"?  Wait until she's dead?  What if her brother wants to come from California to say goodbye?  What about the few friends she has left?  I'm not good with complex thinking when I'm sick with some kind of hideous flu.  I suppose I have to write the obituary too.  It's all I can do to compose this post, obit will have to wait.
My mom has grandma on a DNR, obviously--she's 93 (her 94th birthday is this weekend; the picture above is from last year's party).  But right now the ventilator is keeping her alive.  Her heart is strong and healthy but the doctors don't know if she'll keep breathing without the tubes or just die.  So that's what I get to do this afternoon, go and pull the plug on my grandma and watch her die. 
Happy Valentine's day to my family, right?  My dad died on Thanksgiving, and my grandpa, great grandpa and great grandma all died within days of my birthday.  My  husband's grandmas both died around his birthday (one actually ON the day).  So why not ruin Valentine's day with a death anniversary too? 
I need to think more positively, but right now I can't.  The doctors say she's not in pain.  She's simply  not there anymore.  Hopefully she won't linger and suffer like my dad did (and he suffered--there was no lying to me and saying "he's not in pain" even though he was a vegetable; he moaned and thrashed like an animal in a trap).  I didn't get to say goodbye to her properly but really, that's rare.  When someone is hanging on forever like my dad, you never know when the last time will be to say it, and the flip side is the immediate and quick death with no time for the last time.  If that makes any sense.  She lived to be, essentially, 94.  She had no dementia, no cancer, no ill-health other than arthritis and high blood pressure.  She could walk (slowly) and talk (just fine) until the end. Most people would be happy with that kind of life.
Sunday night, in fact, she was in a really good mood.  We were playing a word game and my mom took a spot where my grandmother wanted to put her word and my grandma was sassing her and we were all laughing.  We were planning on where to take her for her birthday (Red Lobster, for lunch, on Friday).  Now it's more likely that on Friday we'll be eating an after-funeral meal instead.
Bye, Grandma.  I love you.  I'll miss you.  Say hi to Dad & Grandpa for me when you get to the Elsewhere Bar.

Friday, February 03, 2012

please vote for Had a Dad Alzheimer's Blog!

Another award!   Please vote so I can be a finalist!   Simple like the page below (the link) on Facebook or +1 on google.

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Alzheimer's Dad has been nominated to the Best of the Web 2012 in the Best Senior Living Blogs by Individuals category. The Best of the Web 2012 contest highlights the best senior living and caregiving websites, blogs, and resources on the web for consumers and senior living professionals. Your nominee page has been published at

The top nominee sites by popular vote will proceed to the round of finalists and will be rated by our panel of expert judges. Final rankings will be decided by the expert panel ratings. In order to become a finalist, we encourage you to promote your website and get the vote out. Spread the word about your nomination by sharing your nominee page with your clients, customers, friends, and fans and asking for their votes. Finalists are determined by popular vote (total Facebook likes and Google +1s), so each person can vote for you twice! Voting ends on March 2, 2012. 

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Alzheimer's Dad pleae vote!

Alzheimer's Dad
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