You may not believe me but I couldn’t lie about something this serious. Even on her death bed, nana as all the other grandchildren calls her, still doesn’t want anyone else in her kitchen. So, she begs me to come over at lunch time to fix her favorite lunch. When the phone rings at 11a.m. I know it’s going to be grandma complaining about whoever is sitting with her that day. No matter what I am doing or where I am. There’s nothing to do but agree to go over and make a grilled cheese and soup. I try to just say yes before she starts her whimpering “you know nobody else knows how to make it just like I need it done, you’re the best?”
I have been given some of the best advice, received loving warnings and been threatened by grandma while devouring grilled cheese sandwiches. Grandma would joke that when she goes, she’s leaving with a grilled cheese in hand. Every day of her eighty-seven years that I can remember, she had the same lunch exactly at 12:30, while watching ‘the Young and the Restless’. Around noon she’d pop the dinner roast into the oven on 250o, “low and slow” she would say! Humming the theme song of the upcoming soap opera she always in a sauce pan warm the soup of the day. Begin making the star of lunch, a Colby-Swiss blended 2 slice grilled cheese on thick bread, you know the kind, called Texas toast. Her secret to the best sandwich is instead of butter, she uses mayo inside and out. Also, only a cast iron skillet will brown it just right and a pot lid to ensure the perfectly melting steam. The lid only stayed on over the first slice and cheese for twelve seconds just long enough to jumpstart the meltdown. Never longer because the bread would sweat, get soggy and then stick, to any other type of pan; I found out the first time I attempted to duplicate this delicious creation.
After years of this song and dance with grandma, countless number of caregivers have just quit trying to get through lunch with her. Her husband didn’t even go around unless she agreed to go out for something from their favorite restaurant. We all have a favorite food but I’m sure normal people over two don’t hold their breath and refuse to eat a perfect sandwich because it wasn’t prepared by who she wanted. Finally, twelve years ago I opened my own business and I took over the 11-1 slot with grandma permanently. So, at 11 I give her a bath, do her hair and nails. Its our spa time and cocktail hour. At 12, I still do the grill cheese and soup. We talk to the TV during the soaps and I tuck her in for a nap by 1. Every week this is the same routine. It has become something we look forward to and the rest of the family take turns any other time gladly.
Each grandchild has a special relationship with grandma because she stepped in to raise us after our parents passed. It was twelve of us, three of her son’s and two of her daughter’s children. Our parents all were killed on a bus trip to West Virginia when the bus driver had a heart attack and ran off the road plunging into a river. Most of us were teenagers and could help with the younger children. If it had not been for Mr. Blair, grandma’s husband this family would have been scattered hither and yonder. Because grandma lived in a two- bedroom apartment when they married four months prior. He had been preparing to sell his six-bedroom Colonial, to move with her. He immediately took down the for-sale sign without hesitation or regret. His first wife passed during child birth when he was stationed in German 60 years ago. I think it was a second chance for both of them to get it right. Grandma didn’t raise all of her children because of a drinking problem after Pop-Pop passed, 45 years ago from a fall out of a window.
Recently the aides have told the family to begin to visit before 9p.m. because grandma is starting to become a “sundowner”. The Alzheimer’s is becoming increasingly more noticeable. I guess I see her during her most lucid hours of the day. I didn’t think of the next person, who doesn’t have the same relationship with her that I do. She remembers me every day just like always, or is she remembering her love of grilled cheese sandwiches? Or are the lights on and no one home? Nonetheless, it means the end is near.
We all have to come together about what is about to happen to our family, our rock, grandma. Mr. Blair is losing the love of his life again. Alzheimer’s robs everyone twice. The person affected usually never die of old age, but, from complications of the disease.
We decided to let grandma have her way in the conversations, in the meals and in the transitioning. She has always said she wanted to die in her own bed with a grilled cheese sandwich in hand, so that’s the plan. The cousins all jot down a two -week agenda. First and foremost, to wander proof the house. Install alarms and child proof door handles. Tomorrow set up Hospice.
No matter how much time I spent planning for the day grandma came home, that wasn’t enough. Grandma has always been a pacer, when worried. Late at night if one of us were sick, she’d check in on that one three or four times in a night. So, I wonder why she is restless now. Is she checking on someone? Looking for someone or something? Or, is she already walking away with her spirit guide? During her more-clearer moments, she tries to tell us she’s ready, but the others change the subject. I don’t want to have that conversation either but dying is a part of living. We still do our spa time every day now, not just Monday – Friday, I figure whatever day becomes her last; she’d want it to be a bath day.
Today is Grandma’s 88th birthday, anything she wants is what we will do! After a bowl of grits and some fresh -squeezed orange juice, we sat on the porch watching a butterfly tiptoe from petal to petal across the flowers in the free-standing nursery. Afterwards she returned to her room for a visit with Mr. Blair. Up until lunch she had a steady stream of well-wishers. Just before I started to prepare lunch she asked for the family bible like every birthday.
Today she requested tomato soup with her grilled cheese. As I set the lunch tray on her lap she looked up and said “I told you when you were 10, you’d be the best at my creation one day, I love you “. I leaned down kissed her forehead as she used to do me and said I love you too Grandma. I watched her bite the sandwich. Then, she asked me to adjust the volume on the “idiot box” as she called the TV. I walked over to the dresser, searched for the remote that usually lived on the side of the TV. How did it get behind the dresser? Grandma that was strange, you know where the remote was? Grandma? Grandma?
Grandma was cold, gone that fast; but still holding her grilled cheese sandwich!