Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Finding our way Home on Christmas Day

My favourite memory of Christmas this year: my grand-mère's ridiculously happy smile when she realized I was there to play and sing for her.

Grand-mère is in a nursing home, this will be her third week. She's a tiny woman, all shriveled up and bent with shaky hands and a lost expression on her face. She wasn't always like this, but I always remember her as being 'old' and difficult. I always defined her as "grandmère" and other as opposed to "woman" and similar to myself.

With a little bit of thought, her history comes alive and allows me to glimpse into her life as woman. Her mother was extremely ill with asthma, forcing Evelyn to quit school before grade 8 to care for her. She also cared for her two cognitively impaired siblings until their deaths. Her mother passed away when Evelyn was 18 years old, and left her to be the matron of the household. 

She always said that she refused to marry Albert (grand-père) until he returned from the war. "What if he came back missing a leg??" He returned physically whole, they married and had four children. She didn't bargain for what being in the front lines in WWII could do to a man psychologically. She now had a family of four children, two cognitively impaired adults and an alcoholic husband who woke screaming at night.

Grand-mère was also bulimic. My mother remembers her throwing up after each meal. I remember grand-mère's snide comments made to my mother about her weight.

Although we all knew that she was absent minded, her world began crumbling apart three years ago when her youngest son died suddenly. The following Christmas grand-père passed away after a long illness in their home.

And now grand-mère is no longer the capable mother, grandmother or woman she was. She has forgotten that my uncle has died... time passes in snippets for her. New memories refuse to stick and pass as quickly as the electrochemical-signals created. She remembers her husband. She remembers that he's no longer with her and talks of the day she'll join him. Her husband whom she spent years fighting, the love long gone. He was her anchor, his mind keeping her grounded while her physical health kept him with us.

Christmas day, only hours after our happy caroling sing-song, we arrived to take her to Tante B.'s for supper. Mom had been preparing her for weeks. We found her in the lobby, sitting forlornly in a huge, overbearing rocking chair. Her hair all askew, her clothing worn and haphazard. Looking like a tiny lost child surrounded by other wrinkly, lost children. All waiting.

Gone was the happy Grand-mère of Christmas day, and here was a confused woman. Where were we going? It's Christmas day? "Qu'est-ce que vous faites icitte??"

She allowed my mom to guide her to her room in search for her Christmas outfit that was opened yesterday. We arrived to find everything in her room packed into plastic bags. As my mother questioned her, grand-mère sat on the bed and shrugged her shoulders. She had no memory of packing her things, of the gift, of our singing. 

With a sigh, my mother asked me to draw the curtain so she could dress her own mother. I couldn't help. I stood behind the curtain, certain that if I saw them I would fall apart.

We left with assurances that we were taking her 'breathing' medication with us (she had a panic attack upon our arrival) and the half hour drive on the highway consisted of a cycle of approximately 6 questions: "aimes-tu ta job? c'est-ty ta car à toi? travailles-tu à Halifax asteur? Sauves-tu des cents? Les enfants aimes-ty leur madame? Quand-ce qu'est les noces?"...

Although she sat amidst the hub bub of her family, her thoughts too slow to follow conversation around her, she announced that she was so very happy to have gone. A few repetitions of how we were missing one this year (Albert) and a few reminders as to where she lived now and my mother and I were on our way back home.

"I hope I'm never that lost"

(post dedicated to grandmère Evelyn, whom I love dearly)