"I should just die and go be with Kermit," Mom says every now and then, when she starts to reflect on her quality of life.
She hates not having control over her life or her own body--having to wait for someone to take her to the bathroom, having to wear Depends taken off and put on by a caregiver, not being able to drive a car or travel to visit her home in Boulder or her family cabin near Telluride, Colorado.
She was hospitalized for a week last June and again in September, each time losing more of her strength and mobility. During July and August her diet was restricted to pureed foods because her swallowing was judged not good enough for even soft, chewy foods. Potato chips and popcorn have been forbidden for almost a year.
But she finds pleasure and laughter in various things every day, and occasionally she has a great day. One of those days was today.
I had planned a special treat: letting her watch me make cinnamon rolls, the way she had done for her four children fifty years ago. I set the dough to rise before I went to pick her up.
For the first time since August, we went to church. She was not in the hospital and I was in town, available to manage her and the wheelchair.
Then for the first time in a few years, I took her to see a movie. We watched March of the Penguins, and her main comment was right on target: what about the people who filmed it? How did they cope with the cold weather and conditions? She was ready to leave about halfway through, but probably no sooner than most other viewers.
Afterward we bought Panda Express meals for lunch and took them to my house. I wheeled her up the new ramp to the front door and installed her at the kitchen table, where she ate two pieces of cinnamon raisin toast for dessert, while watching me punch down the dough for the cinnamon rolls, roll it out, sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar, and place the cut rolls in a pan to rise.
She was falling asleep by that point, so after a difficult bathroom trip, I helped her into a recliner for a nap.
Before she could fall asleep, however, John's sister Lee dropped by with Leo and their three-year-old twins, Juliette and Jacqueline. The girls remembered the antique doll buggy they had played with last time--which had belonged to Grandma when she was their age, early in the 1920s. Soon we were all sitting in the back yard watching them push the buggy and rearrange the covers on the doll.
Mom--aka Grandma Gussie--was delighted. She was able to keep up with the limited kinds of conversation that occur around that kind of event. Elegantly dressed in her best Jones New York pink tailored coat and flowered rayon skirt and blouse, she made perfect sense. One would never have suspected she had any dementia.
"You should curl their hair," she told Lee. "I had curls when I was their age. I can show you how to do it--you take the hair like this and wrap it around a rag and then wrap the rag back around it and tie it."
When Leo gave each of the twins a turn at being held upside down, Lee and Grandma expressed equal dismay: "Don't do that! You might drop her."
We all ate cinnamon rolls hot out of the oven with milk.
And then the twins were put in their carseats and taken home; Grandma was wheeled back to the car and driven back to the secure floor of Ocean View Assisted Living.
She was tired, but she had had a happy day.