The Circle of Life

I was changing the Bun’s diapers when I overheard this conversation between my mother (Nonna) and my mother’s mother (G. G. for great-grandmother):

Nonna: So you’re wearing regular panties now?

GG: Yes.

Nonna: You’re not wearing the Depends anymore?

GG: No, not right now.

Nonna: Well, are your pants wet? Should I change you?

I listened to this exchange as I listen to many exchanges between these two women. In some ways, I feel as if I’m listening to my future.

My grandmother, GG, is almost 89 years old. She has been a widow for more than 25 years. Since I was a teenager, she lived in a senior citizens’ apartment complex; she was very independent. Until about two years ago, she drove by herself. Then she started getting lost, forgetting where she was going and/or how to get there. 

Although for most of her life she has been in good health, lately she hasn’t been doing well mentally. She doesn’t have Alzheimer’s (thank goodness), but she clearly has age-onset dementia.

A couple of months ago, she took a spill and fractured her pelvis. My mother and her brother, my uncle, had to move her out of the independent-living senior apartment where she resided. She is now in assisted living and will probably be there the rest of her life. She walks with the assistance of a walker, but she can’t do many other things for herself.

GG is deaf. She is extremely forgetful. Sometimes, she has acute attacks of paranoia. For awhile she was convinced my uncle tried to kill her (he was with her when she fell). Sometimes she thinks my uncle and my mom are stealing all her money.

I watch the interactions between my mother and her mother with curiosity. My mom is already losing her hearing, although she doesn’t like to admit it. She says she misses the first parts of words, and often if she’s not looking at you, she doesn’t realize you’re talking to her.

My mother is in very good health. She eats well; she exercises. At 62, she looks fantastic. She still works, and she and my father are very happily married, enjoying travel and their grandkids, and looking forward to retirement.

Where will she be in 20 years? Will she be forgetting how to get from her house to mine? Will she forget what clothes she owns? Will she forget about her grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Will my brother and sister and I be figuring out who will be taking care of her? Will my father still be around?

Goodness, I don’t mean to tempt fate. But someday, will Monkey or Bun be changing my grandchild’s diaper in the other room while I ask my mother if she needs a new Depends?

Part of me is already in mourning, of course. I know a lot of stories of my grandmother’s life — and they are excellent stories of a well-lived life — and I hope I remember them for a good long time.

Because she can’t tell them to me anymore.

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