Last week my grandfather came home from the nursing home where he’s been for rehab since his bout with pneumonia. He was supposed to come home a few weeks ago, but he fell and broke his wrist. Then another homecoming was scuttled when he was sick. But finally the day came and he and his belongings were trundled over to his apartment.
This was a very good thing, as Grandma had had just about all the time apart from him she could stand. Neither of them does well when they’re separated, and it was a relief to everyone to have them together again.
Unfortunately, they need help there in their little apartment. Caregivers come in morning and evening to usher them through their daily routines. The cost is astronomical, and the loss of privacy is upsetting. They still see themselves as living independently, and don’t understand all why all of this is happening.
They just want everything to be normal.
Saturday I went over to collect their grocery list for the week and Grandpa was being interviewed by a physical therapist. I sat down at the table to wait until they were done talking and watched. Grandpa answered questions as vaguely as he could, stretching for answers, or to at least maintain the image of one who knows the answers. At times he would shake his head and wave his hand vaguely, inserting some oft-repeated witty statement instead of the information he couldn’t recall. Grandma sat off to the side, circling her wheelchair helplessly around the kitchen and living room, jiggling her foot in impotent anxiety. She knew how difficult it was for Grandpa to try to answer all those questions, and she longed to help.
Not that she could remember the answers either.
After a while I took their list and went to the store. When I came back with their groceries I found Grandpa walking aimlessly around the apartment, leaning on his walker. He greeted me softly, so as not to awaken Grandma, who was taking a nap. I carried the groceries to the kitchen and started putting them away, making small talk. Grandpa didn’t seem to be in the mood to chat, so I fell silent, tucking cartons and boxes away in their kitchen. I watched him check the thermostat, pat the dog, check the thermostat again, and wander over to the window. He stood there for several silent minutes, peering out at the sky as though he were reading its meaning. When I put my hand on his shoulder to tell him I was done, he turned to me and smiled that sad resigned smile he has these days, and patted my cheek wordlessly.
I went back to my van and sat in it without moving for a while. Above me passed several dozen geese. The Canadian geese come here to winter in our relative warmth, and many of then have made their home in the fields by Grandma and Grandpa’s apartment. When they’re here over the winter they don’t fly in the tight V formation that the use when migrating, but seem to amble through the sky. I watched them pass overhead in random lines, like foam tracing the edges of an invisible wave. They honked back and forth, and veered off in different directions.
When they are here over the winter it is as though they are no longer home. Yet if it isn’t time for them to leave, they have nowhere to go either.
I wonder if this in-between time is as anxious and sad a place for them as it is for Grandpa and Grandma.