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.

IMG_3464

Still wheat free…kind of.

Last night I sneezed like I’d put my bed in a field of pollen and licked a cat hair lollipop.

Earlier in the day I made lentil walnut burgers that came out with too much liquid.  What does one do to absorb liquid? You add breadcrumbs.  In my case, I should’ve added gluten-free breadcrumbs, but I didn’t. I didn’t have any in the house. Plus I’m on a budget and didn’t want to and couldn’t walk to the store in time to get them and get back to watch my grandad. So I just tossed them in there thinking, “No big deal.”

It was a big deal.  Shortly thereafter, I started to sneeze. A lot.  I’ve had these fits often in the past.  I always thought they were just random allergy attacks even though I was on allergy medicine.  I’ve had them twice since on this gluten-free elimination test that Rebecca Wood suggests.  Both times align with accidental (sorta) ingestion of wheat.  So I’m going to continue to eat wheat/gluten-free to see if that’s really the case.  I also haven’t consumed any dairy since this test began.  I feel great, for the most part. The Cheetos cravings are getting crazy, but so has my life.  It’s hard to walk away, but I do.  They wouldn’t even be here except there’s a teenage boy in the house and I have no control over what he eats. So, they’re here. To tempt me.

I’m in the process of cooking some staple foods to make sure that I have pieces of recipes ready when meal times arrive.  It’s easier to toss some vegetables and seasonings in a pan when most of the work is done.  Overall this is difficult. It’s been a stressful week, but I’m thriving in spite of its events.  That’s nice. At least one thing that’s going well is how my body feels. I like that. I can’t control the events that occur outside of myself. I can, however control what I put into my body to fuel it.

** Side note, as I was tagging this post my grandad — who is having one of his bad days– came into the kitchen.  He wanted to know where I’d been since I left with that man last night.  I told him that I’d never left and that after I said goodnight to him I went downstairs and went to sleep.  He said, “Ok. You know that you shouldn’t be with a man who will beat you up.”  The rambling continued and I got increasingly sad.  He’s not the person I knew. He’s fading and it’s sad.  Being here with my grandfather makes me very sad.

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.

Control

There is none of that going on in my life right now.  The only thing I have control over is how cute my outfit looks and that’s because I dressed myself this morning. But aren’t we all one car accident away from not even being able to do that?  There was a 27 car pile up in Georgia yesterday. Damn.

Yes, I control some of my choices.  I chose to quit my job and move to a state whose politics are reliably anti-progress and whose history includes lynchings (don’t they all though?). I chose this life.  This life, however, is currently highlighting just how little control I have ever had over anything.

My grandad has moments where his entire body locks up and says, “You wanted to go this way? Ok. Cool. We got chu.  SIKE! You ain’t goin nowhere mutha fucka. You can just stand here till I make you fall.”

That’s messed up.

This is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in a very long while.

I can’t control that’s he’s getting older and this will probably get worse.  My first job out of high school was working for Arden Courts as a caregiver.  It’s one thing to give care to a complete stranger.  It’s another to care for your grandfather in a clinical way. And I’m not even the one doing most of the care giving!  It’s hard just being here.  I sat across the table and watched him eat yesterday.  Tears fought their way to the front of my eyes.  I wouldn’t let myself cry because it’s unnecessary and kinda rude. –I’m looking him in the face and crying at the state of his life.  If someone did that to me I’d punch them in the throat.  — I’m mourning the man I knew and not celebrating his life as it has become.  He is still very funny and quite biting.

I cannot control my grandfather’s health. I cannot control my life or what happens to me.  I can, however, control “my response to it.”  I am learning a great deal by just changing how I respond.

Something I’m learning

There’s no Internet at the house and the nearest coffee shop is a 90 minute walk away. Future posts will be short.

I’m learning to sit and be quiet, to be small in silence, to let tears rise and not shed. I am remembering why I left. I am discovering the courage to stay.

An Open Letter to ING Direct/Capital One 360

This difficulty is multi-fold because I’m trying to get home to see my grandfather.  I don’t have much money and that’s why I don’t matter to ING Direct –soon to be Capital One 360. It’s one of my longest relationships with a financial institution to date.   My experiences with this bank have been neutral (almost good) thus far, and so this is hard. I’m trying to get to a home that I’ve never called as such but do now because of the people and not the place.  My granddad is ill and I’ve left Seattle to be with him.  Honestly, more for me than him, but with him nonetheless.  I quit my job saved and stored my belongings packed up my dog in an old car and am driving. And now, because of ING Direct, soon to be Capital One 360, I am losing time with him.

At some point on my road trip I discovered that my card’s magnetic strip was not working.   Being more responsible than I usually am I made all the necessary arrangements to have a new card mailed to an upcoming location on my trip.  When I arrived I realized I’d beaten the card, but did not worry. Days passed and still, no card. Additional phone calls and days passed with no change.  Eleven business (18 people) days and no card later I’m still waiting.

Circumstances provide an opportunity for thought.  The voices of all my mothers sing quietly in my mind that, perhaps, I should have other resources.  Perhaps. But, I don’t.  A lot of people don’t. We work for our compensation and should have the opportunity to access it, as we need.  Here in this deserved season of bank animosity I can empathize with the feeling of being out of control: the feeling of someone taking advantage.

I want to live in a world where I matter. Where banks aren’t so big that someone the size of me can disappear and no one is concerned.  Where customer service doesn’t consist of a different person with each correspondence and previous conversations are kept in digital logs.  Where I feel good about the choices I make as a consumer.  After my interactions with the consistently growing entity that is ING Direct/Capital One 360 I’m not sure that what I want coincides with what it can give.