This post is not about death

I believe that there are instances of our life that happen like pictures.  With or without a camera those incidents are daguerrotyped into our brains and we’ll never completely get them out.  One of those pictures is of my first kiss. Another is the scene in my 3rd grade classroom when a girl got a hold of my journal and read the entries aloud. One that just happened is the face my grandfather made as he collapsed to the floor.

He’s been falling a lot lately and I don’t have anything in my toolbox that can help. I’m not a doctor. I can’t research his symptoms and prescribe adjustments that will result in him living longer.  If I could. I don’t know that I would.  He’s been ready to die since his wife died two years ago.  He wants it to be over and yet his life continues.  Well, some version of his life is in the works, but it’s not the whole one. Unfortunately, it’s not even sliced into neat pieces that are conducive to an orderly existence.  His mind is split into pieces that leave him calling me by my cousin’s name, calling his daughter by his mother’s name, and calling his sons by names I don’t recognize.  Sometimes when his computer tries to reboot itself he is left standing blank in a doorway or just in front of the sink.  If my aunt or I recognize the symptoms soon enough we can prevent fall. It’s not always possible.

A few days ago friends of the family, whom I’d never met, were visiting and asked me to describe him in one word. I chose ornery. It was, apparently, a harsh descriptor because everyone looked around the room and silence ensued.  But he is ornery. He is stubborn. He is mean. He is sweet. He is loving. He is my grandfather and I am here for him. I quit my job for him. I am living in the basement of this house for him. And me. I couldn’t remain 3,000 miles away, hear about his deterioration, and be okay.  I couldn’t be forced to deal with his death from a distance as I was my grandmothers’ and a former student’s. I needed to grieve up close for him and that’s what is happening.

I grieve for him slowly as I walk behind him bracing myself for his fall.  I grieve for him in pieces when I have flashbacks to the vibrant grey-haired man of my youth.  The one who would scrub my skin so hard in a Jamaican bathtub that I felt as if my whole self would peel off.  The man who loved me in my youth but allowed me to be abandoned by his son. The man who always had a drink in his hand, but never seemed to be drunk.  The man who loved my grandmother but cheated on her anyway.  The man who never said I love you. The man who loved me.  I grieve for him in whole pieces when I am away and hear his voice on the phone.  When I hear a great crashing sound as I go to bed and run back upstairs to care for him after he has fallen, if he has fallen. The man who I help get in and out of the shower. For whom I sometimes hold my breath as I walk into the bathroom to flush the toilet.  The man for whom I adjust old sweatpants that are too big and need to be tied extra tight to satisfy him.  The man I sit next to as he stares blankly through windows and relives his hauntings.  I grieve for this man constantly these days.  I am living in a state of grief.  It’s not always as hard as it was today.  But I saw his face as he fell and he was so afraid. I was too far to catch him and didn’t see it coming.  I will never get the sight of his fear out of my mind.

This post isn’t about death it’s about grief.  I want the grieving to be over.

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Emotional Eating

Kale salad

I have this thing with food. I’ve talked about it at length in other blog posts like here and here.  It’s a process.  I’m back in Georgia and I’m stressed.  As I’m typing this my grandfather is taking a shower and I’m sitting outside the bathroom door as a precaution.  He’s already had 2 or 3 near falls this morning. Luckily I was there to catch him.  What do I mean by near falls?  His breathing becomes labored. His eyes roll to the back of his head. His body becomes rigid. His spirit goes away. When these “spells” occur, he has no control and will often fall or clutch the nearest object with the death grip to win all death grips.  Two or three times I was there. Once I wasn’t.

I heard something that sounded like marbles against a wall from the other room. I walked into his bedroom found him in the closet in an awkward diagonal with his head against the wall, stomach on boxes, and feet on the floor. I put him in the rescue position on the floor of the closet and put his head on a pillow.  He resisted told me he wanted to “bade” (take a bath).  I responded that I wanted him to stay there for a few minutes because he’d just hit his head.  He argued that he hadn’t and that he was fine.

He wasn’t fine.

It’s always difficult when I find my grandad after he has fallen.  The last big fall he had left him bloody and covered in his own urine.  Afterwards, I craved Cheetos. It was immediate. Once the adrenaline settled the craving took its place.  That time, I ate them. This time, I did not.

I’m on day 6 of a 21-day gluten-free elimination test.  I craved Cheetos last night and refrained from eating them. After his fall this morning, the craving returned and I refrained from eating them again.

I continue to be amazed at how connected I am — at a chemical level– to food. The events of this morning have renewed my sadness and reminded me that he is going to die.  I will have no grandparents left. I will no longer be tethered to this family that hurts. At least not tethered through obligation merely bloodline.  As I continue to explore my odd position in this family and the oddities of this family I can’t help but wonder what will happen to me when his life goes away.

My grandfather the soothsayer

The soothsayer himself

The soothsayer himself

I moved into the unfinished basement in my uncle’s house in December of 2012.  My grandfather’s health was declining and it hurt to be almost 3,000 miles away from him. This decision continues to challenge me in ways I could not have handled five years ago.  That’s not why I’m writing today.  I’m writing because my conversation with my grandad just freaked me the hell out.  It is already VERY difficult for me to live in a basement.  It’s dark and scary and it always feels like someone is going to break in and murder me.  I have my escape plan all mapped out.  Keeping that to mahself.  Not trying to have any impending murderers read this and foil my plans.

Two of the several rooms look like this:Fridge area

I mentioned the “several” not to be bougie, but to illustrate that this is a shit ton of room for one person to occupy. I usually sit on my bed with my back against the wall and my face like this:

Mi hear duppy.

Mi hear duppy.

It’s a scary situation of bounty. I digress. Today while eating my banging gluten-free breakfast of champyans in the upstairs kitchen.

My grandfather says, from behind me, “I have a kwestion, but mi nuh no di ansah. Mi nuh no whuh kwestion fi ask, buh mi wan’ tan an ansah.”

Translation: “I have a question. I’m not quite sure how to phrase it, but I’d like an answer.”

First of all. When talking to a fully coherent individual of any age I’d be like, “Well, work that sh*t out and get back to me when you have something a little more concrete.” Because honestly, what can anyone do with that?  He goes on to say,

“Sumting feel wrong wit the house. The house don feel right. Only chree of us here?”

Translation: “Something feels wrong with the house. Is there anyone else in here besides us?”

Umm the hell you say?  So his home nurse tries to assure him that we’re the only people here and I’m sitting there like this:

Mi feel him pon mi skin

Mi feel him pon mi skin

My grandfather is an 88 year old Jamaican man who has developed seizures, has a mysterious pain in his abdomen, and pisses himself on occasion. Ain’t nothing wrong with any of that though. After that long your body would probably start rebelling too.

I believe in the wisdom of elders. I believe in the power of people who are close to birth and death.  I have no doubt that at the cusps of our lives we are connected to things we eventually outgrow and return to, like spirits. Sooooo to hear this man talk about something being wrong in the house was freaky.  He kept saying that the position of the house has changed and that something is wrong.  I just listen because we’re both getting frustrated.  He wants me to tell him what’s wrong. I don’t know what’s wrong and he keeps telling me that “I don’t know grandad,” is an “unacceptable ansah.”

*The house phone rings*

I usually don’t pick it up unless I recognize the number.  This time I  picked up without recognizing the number.  The conversation went a little something like this, “Hello. The FBI reports that there are 10 million home break-ins each year…

I’m sorry, what?  If someone breaks into my house I swear fo’ God I will shit myself without shame.  I had my scared of duppy face on went I came back to the table where my grandfather was sitting.  Even though I was spooked I tried to let my grandfather know that we heard him.  His feelings were valid, but I just had no idea what was “wrong with the house.”  He then started to ramble and talk about how it was a holiday and everyone should be home.  I took that as my cue to exit the conversation.

The combination of my grandad’s words and that telemarketer phone call leaves me feeling off. That man and his soothsaying abilities have gotten under my skin.  I’m going to try and spend the rest of my day doing something other than looking for ghosts around the next corner.

Woofer

I am a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) pronounced “woofer.” That means I’m trained to provide medical care in remote situations. I’ve never had to use that training in any significant way. I’m of the mindset that preventative actions are the best form treatment. My students and I come to an understanding about behavioral expectations and things tend to turn out fine.

While living here with my grandad situations have presented themselves that required me to make decisions. This morning I heard him fall and sprung into action. He was bleeding from his mouth — he had caught his head on a wall corner as he fell and bitten his cheek badly. His eyes had glazed over as they commonly do an his verbalizations were incoherent. He was not there.

I performed a primary assessment and determined a course of action. He is now resting comfortably on the couch wearing my fingerless gloves. I wake him occasionally to take his vitals and get an overall update.

When this happened I wasn’t afraid or overwhelmed. I was succinct, direct and efficient. I followed my gut and it worked out. It felt good. The adrenaline is fading and my emotions are taking their place. Overall, I still feel clear.

This feeling of assuredness is peculiar, but helpful…