I’m taking it way back to describe a day I had almost a year ago, but did not have a blog at that time. I feel that it’s an incredible experience (even though it was a typical day). It endures hardships, sadness, though happiness in the mix. However, I see beauty and love within this day.
Friday, June 26th, 2015
It’s Friday afternoon. I’m almost done with “work.” I say “work” because my job is to ensure two fun loving, sassy kids are always safe under my supervision and are having an enjoyable summer, filled with never-ending activities. So, it really doesn’t seem like a job half of the time.
After finishing up bowling, their mom is waiting in the parking lot shortly after. The much needed weekend is here, finally. Although I still have a second job to work two out of the three day weekend, it only sucks up around six precious hours per day.
Incoming call, momma.
We usually talk as much as we can during the week, but some weeks are busier than others. She decided to bring her dad to go on an “adventure” to La Crosse today, though she still has to break the news to him that the adventure ends with an appointment to see a neurologist at Gundersen Lutheran. “Hey Bear! We’re in La Crosse, we’ll be at Gundersen in about 5 minutes to see you and your co-workers.”
I’m suddenly puzzled. “Hey Mom, huh?”
She continues on, “Yeah, at Gundersen. Grandpa and I came to see you at work.”
Light bulb moment. “Ahh, yes ok. This is for grandpa. Alright, I will meet you there shortly. Is he okay?”
She sighs, one I hear even through the muffled phone, “You’ll see. Love you, see you soon.”
Aw man, I think. “Okay, love you too.”
Mom and grandpa pull up to the front doors while park my car in a lot near Gundersen. I meet both of them near the main entrance. “Can you take grandpa to the bathroom so I can go park the truck now?”
“Can I go to the bathroom at the same time?” Since I’m pregnant, I now pee every twenty minutes, which is apparently normal. Not to me yet. Mom widens her eyes at me and shakes her head no. He can’t be that quick, but I nod in acceptance and lead grandpa to the restrooms while mom quickly dashes the other way. I walk slower than usual to keep grandpa within distance of me, even so, when I look back at him, he’s still a few feet behind me. He’s eyeing me suspiciously then raises an eyebrow and peers around the hallway in a look like horror. I suddenly realize what he’s looking for – the same person that brought him here. He also just now realizes he doesn’t know where I’m leading him as he continues to study who I am. I just hugged him outside, how does he not remember three minutes ago?
I freeze and point to the men’s restroom then find a way to settle his confusion, “Here you go, gramps. I’ll wait here while you go to the bathroom.” I initially thought he was slower than a turtle today simply because he’s an old guy, then I realize why when he actually walks past me. He’s forced his index finger through one of the side loop holes on his jeans. They look roughly 4 sizes too big for him. No belt included. I focused all my attention on this man that has aged five years in the past six months. I study his outfit, his facial features, his smell, his walk. He looks as if he hasn’t shaved since last year. His eyes are repetitively focusing on something different every ten seconds or so. The movement of air circles hits my nose. A tang of body odor, beer and a two day old spritz of Old Spice. His steps are choppy, partially because of his over-sized jeans, partially because the rheumatoid arthritis in his knees is nearly unbearable to walk on in the short ten minutes that he gets up to do something, anything.
I watch him slowly turn the corner and slip into the bathroom. A few seconds later a janitor appears to do the daily cleaning. I hear grandpa’s muffled voice and a grunt sound. Mom is walking towards me by this time with a big smile on her face, I know her next move already. She hugs me tight, then rubs my small protrusion of a belly and continues to smile, but it widens and her eyes soften. “Aww, my two babies. I missed you lots.”
I smile, “I missed you too, mom.” How could one person’s heart be so big? It’s as if she can exhale the love in her heart and whisk it through the clean air towards me because when I inhale, I feel my heart swell. I missed my mommy so much, like when she left me to return home after helping me move into my first apartment. She didn’t know it then, but I was homesick that first night in Madison just like I get homesick every time I’m forced back to work in La Crosse after the weekend is over. I feel heat to my eyes and they begin to gloss, so I transfer the attention to grandpa who’s now inching back out of the bathroom.
All three of us make our way to the first floor elevators so we can check in for his appointment on the third floor. Grandpa shoots confused glances between mom and I. “Where in the hell are we going now?”
Mom half scowls half frowns my direction. A scowl/ frown of dad, you just asked, I just told you, it’s like you’re a little kid asking ‘are we there yet?’ But I know you can’t help it, I just wish I could help you. Help you find your way back to me again. “Dad, remember we’re going to meet Erin’s coworkers ‘cuz she works here?”
He listens, but doesn’t care because he really can’t remember, then replies just to attempt to prove to us that he does know. “Ya, oh ya.”
We squish into the elevator with two other ladies, a middle-aged woman and her deteriorating mother in a wheel chair. This poor woman is suffering because her body is withering away from her mind and grandpa is standing beside her – his mind withering from his outer shell. Two very different people with different problems, yet we stand in the same elevator at the same hospital awaiting the same news – bad news. We reach the third floor. Mom tells us she’ll go check grandpa into the front desk so we can find a seat for grandpa to rest while she does so. He looks around with yet another look of confusion, then at me. “What are we doing HERE?”
I panic. This is mom’s job to lie to him until she finally wishes to let him in on the not-so-good news. I speak softer than I think. “I work here, we’re visiting my coworkers.” He looks like he believes me for a split second then I realize that’s not a look of belief, he’s processing what I just said and holding back the anger that’s started to boil.
“Oh – JESUS CHRIST!” We’re off to one side of the large waiting room filled with about twenty people anxiously awaiting the same thing, the startling buzz. I peered around the room, curious if anyone had heard profanity in a waiting room full of elders before. To my right sat an older gentleman, maybe 55 or 60. He wore square, black brimmed glasses and read a Sports Illustrated magazine settled on his half-crossed legs. As I casually raked his area for nosy faces, he flipped his eyes from the magazine up over the top his glasses. Crap! He caught me gawking, but surprises me with a slight smile. I smiled a nervous smile back. I couldn’t read his expression. Did a smile like that mean he didn’t mind a loud old man in a full waiting room or an it’s okay this time but be quiet next time smile?
It truly didn’t matter to me what anyone thought in here. Grandpa was suffering so this is the best mom can do for him at this particular moment, just like most others in this room. The main difference between grandpa and most everyone else in this room is that he forgets – what he’s doing, where he’s going, where he’s at, why he’s here, what’s wrong with him. Everyone else knows where they’re at and what they’re going in for, so they can be in disgust all they want, they don’t understand at all.
I snapped back to what was right next to me, grandpa. His loud voice startled me. For some reason or another, he was looking down towards the floor, disgusted. I leaned forward in my chair to see what he was seeing, nothing. I looked back at his face, still in disbelief with whatever was catching his eye. Then, he cautiously turned his head towards me and looked directly into my eyes, STILL disgusted. He studied me again, is she paying attention? Did she see? He waited. I flinched my eyes away and back at him, “what is it gramps?”
He looked down again… “WELL… How in the HELL did my pants get wet? Did I PISS them?” I glanced that way, his jeans weren’t simply ‘wet’. They were soaked. I felt a bubble lift from my stomach to my throat as I tried to choke back and out fluttered a sequence of loud cackles. I wiped the bottom of my eyes.
The only words that came to my mind while managing my laughter was, “It’s okay, grandpa.” I glanced over again at the man with the Sports Illustrated magazine. He was already peering over at us, though this time his smile took up his whole face. He had been giggling with us.
Below is a picture of my grandpa Jelinek, sister Paige, myself, and my grandpa George – the man this memory is based around. This picture was taken later, in August 2015, on a sunny, warm, happy day – one of his better days.
Grandpa caught me by surprise when he slapped the side of my leg and pointed at his soaked jeans. “Think I might’ve miss aimed that one, ay?” He continued with a loud, deep belly laugh that echoed throughout the room. I joined in, the two of us oblivious that anyone else was even in the room with us. From an outside eye, we probably resembled two little kids laughing at a corny joke one of us just told the other.
After mom checked grandpa into the receptionist’s desk, she appeared within our field of vision by touching grandpa on the shoulder ever so slightly, “Dad, we’re moving by door ‘F’. Ready?” Grandpa gave her a concerned look similar to the one he’d shot at me before sliding through the bathroom door downstairs. “Why the hell are we here again? I hate this place…ah hell.” Mom caught a glimpse of the same guy that had been giggling with us the whole time. She whispered his direction, sorry! The gentleman smiled and lifted his hand to make a pushing motion through the air, “No, no. I hear ya, no problem.” He genuinely smiled again as we walked towards our new seating location. We were his cheap entertainment for the day and he enjoyed every minute of it.
While we waited about twenty more minutes until the specialist came out of big, fat door ‘F’, grandpa seemed to inhale the special air in our new seating area that made him more intoxicated. He even got louder. Imagine that.
A guy in his late 20’s, early 30’s sat by a corner of our new area. He hadn’t looked up once from the magazine cradled in his lap nor did he have any recollection that anyone had sat near him or made noise the entire time. As if he had been nonexistent from the world, unless he had shielded us in an invisible curtain in his mind to secretly shut us up. One of the only times I saw my mom look over and notice the hazed curtain between us and him, though not seem to care that grandpa’s voice had nearly doubled – in a hospital waiting room. Normally, even if I say one word too loud in a hospital setting she’s down my throat about shushing up. Something else had her mental focus right now and I couldn’t hit the nail on the head. All I saw was a daughter soaking up her father’s laughter to capture in a small box in her mind to keep filed under ‘Memories with My Dad’. This reminded me of a childhood memory, me holding a mason jar at night, running around catching the bright blinking lightening bugs to keep as a night light in my room. They sadly only lasted a night or two.
It’s not that grandpa was being disrespectful to the radius of people around us… He didn’t know. He had forgotten where he was. When he caught up with his mind every few minutes, he would ask again what we were doing and why we were waiting. His mind mocked a hamster running on a wheel. Running for long periods of time, letting their legs go numb and forgetting what they’re doing. The only difference was that grandpa would stop running, but couldn’t ever get off that damn wheel to rest. He would stop when he felt his legs again, or for better words, his mind, then would continue running just to stop again on the same wheel, in the same place. Run, forget, stop. Run, forget, stop. A hamster has an advantage over grandpa, it can hop off the wheel. Grandpa can’t. The never-ending cycle he’s now going through, he watched his mother feel the same pain, the same numbness. Today, she was a repeat image in his mind.
Grandpa rambled constantly in this area – as if he seemed to believe since the area wasn’t as densely populated – he could talk louder. I can’t help but continually eye the guy in the corner as grandpa talks about his rheumatoid arthritis, his mother’s Alzheimer’s, his brother that committed suicide, his nine kids (which mom carefully corrects to six each time), his “pissed” pants. The guy looks annoyed more than he’s ever been, though trying to hide it in his closed-off box. I want to walk over to look him straight in the eyes and tell him if he understood the situation, he would relax his hard-edged shell. But I don’t. I just sit and glare at him as if my explanation was burning through his skin. (Harsh, I know, but it was difficult to see an individual upset with someone so delicate and frail.) If he did understand, he would feel the same wounds my mom is feeling right now.
We are finally met by the specialist. A tall, skinny man with white hair and glasses. He doesn’t look up from his clipboard when he says, “Rodney George.”
Grandpa grunts as he stands, his index finger still wrapped around the loop hole of his pants. “Ah, hell. Here we go.” Mom and I look at each other and giggle just once. The man looks up at us through his glasses. He holds a hardened look while we finish our giggle. Yikes, lighten up doc.
As we sat in the small enclosed space, we hear things we already knew and things we knew but never wanted to talk about. The doctor drills both grandpa and mom with questions about various aspects of grandpa’s perceptions and actions. It has taken every piece of mom not to break down right there in front of a man she doesn’t know and another man that she’s known all her life, but he only knows her occasionally when he pushes his mind beyond its comfort zone. Because I think she’s grasping that when her father thinks she’s his wife and I, his daughter, she knows his mind is veering off sooner than
she wants to believe.
The one thing we do have control over is our love. He will forever know that his daughter’s love for him is unconditional. Taking him on ‘adventures’ aka: appointments, buying him non-alcoholic beer, to make him think he’s enjoying the same refreshment as the past forty years, and listening to his laughter as we hit the high tides on the boat. These are the memories my mommy can soak up and put in a file in her mind to read them like a book later on down the road. I’ve learned morethan I could’ve imagined from her in my lifetime already, but the most important thing I’ve learned from her is to love and be loved. In these moments, you’ll find the greatest happiness. She’s taught me to have compassion towards people and to never judge a book by its cover. These are the life lessons that I revisited today, and I’m forever grateful to have the most amazing role model.