The Game is Set

I wish this were a prettier tale to tell. Nothing like your life becoming something of a sordid soap opera . . . but they are the facts. Life often isn’t what you’d like it to be.

Here is a general and brief overview of how things have gone since I wrote the post What Was Said:

Incident One

Some Saturday shortly after I wrote “What Was Said” Daryl came over to take Grandma out for their usual Saturday Garage-Sale-ing. As it turned out, before Grandma and Daryl managed to leave the house Grandma had a sudden bout of nausea and was afraid she was having heart trouble. So instead of going shopping, Daryl took Grandma to the emergency room. The doctors decided to keep Grandma overnight for observation (in the end it turned out nothing had occurred) so Daryl got Grandma settled in at the hospital and then came back to the house to pick up some night-stuff for Grandma.

When Daryl returned she told me, with a mixture of surprise and amazement, that at the hospital Grandma had been weepy to the point of being hysterical. Daryl couldn’t understand what on earth was causing this extreme reaction. Did I have any idea what was bothering Grandma?

I was a bit surprised that Daryl was surprised by Grandma’s actions. Having been witness to a previous emotional meltdown at the hospital, and having been witness to Grandma’s attitude over the past months, I had a pretty good idea (generally speaking) what was going on, and didn’t realize Daryl was so much in the dark.

The “why” of Grandma’s hysterical tears was “because” I informed Daryl of the whole present situation. That whole encompasses both her own health, and Grandpa’s condition. Her tears and hysteria (distilled down to their essence) were the result of (a) feeling sorry for herself and (b) being afraid of dying. Feeling sorry for herself revolves around her lot in life, and particularly Grandpa. Being afraid of dying relates to her own health and when she is feeling poorly both of these things come to the fore.

It became clear from talking with Daryl that she didn’t have a full grasp of how Grandma was operating, especially in regard to her attitude and intentions toward Grandpa. Previously, I didn’t see any reason to spread around my opinion of how Grandma treated and viewed Grandpa, but I decided it was time to clear the air and lay things out plainly. “Grandma told me when I first came here that she was only going to keep Grandpa around as long as he recognized her,” I told Daryl, “and I think she is starting to feel that is taking too long. So I think–perhaps subconsciously–she is starting to look for some way of getting rid of him sooner.”

What I told Daryl made a lot of things click into place for her, and in a very disturbing way. At the hospital Grandma had asked to speak to a social worker and had hinted about doing things with Grandpa. Daryl was now seeing this as part of a larger movement. Grandma desired to be rid of the burden called Grandpa as soon as “decently” possible.

“It looks like she has a real attitude problem,” Daryl said–in one of those statements of the obvious.

As a reader, you might be wondering why. Simplified, two reasons: One, Grandpa taxes and annoys Grandpa because of his Alzheimer’s related activity–making messes, constantly asking questions, etc. Grandpa makes her life unpleasant, and she wants (and feels she deserves) to live out the last of her days in pleasantness.

Two, watching Grandpa’s slow degradation is philosophically unpleasant for Grandma. As she will tell anyone who will listen, “I’m an optimist at heart. I always look for better days ahead.” If you see death as an end of “better days” then your own failing health is going to challenge that world view. And if that is your world view, someone slowly dying from Alzheimer’s is a complete contradiction to that idea of better days ahead. That type of optimism is refuted by Alzheimer’s.

As Grandma told Daryl amidst her tears that day, “It seems like things are only getting worse and worse.”

To which Daryl had said, “Things are going to get worse and worse.”

That is the plain truth, but for Grandma that is unacceptable. She needs to have better days to look forward too. She doesn’t want to tell herself, “I’m going to live out the last of my days with this Alzheimer’s patient with things getting worse and worse until I finally die.” She needs to be able to tell herself, “Soon this Alzheimer’s patient will be gone and then things will be better.” And as soon as we think, “Soon I will be rid of him,” then that soon isn’t coming soon enough.

Daryl’s solution to this mentality was to (attempt to) convince Grandma that it wasn’t feasible for her to get rid of Grandpa and ergo, she would have to reconcile herself to this life, and stop plotting and hoping to be rid of him. Daryl’s reasoning being, you might not be able to change Grandma’s attitude, but if you demonstrate that it can’t be done, you’ve stopped her at the point of action. Whether this is entirely true or actually works remains to be seen.

Incident Two

In keeping with this philosophy of “Better days ahead” as soon as Grandma was rid of Melinda she “needed” to find a replacement. Something–somebody–on whom to pin dreams of greater household bliss and harmony. So Grandma called up my Aunt Annie and asked her to find some suitable girl.

A few days after Grandma comes back out of the hospital we have a woman showing up at the front door. Now Grandma presented this to me as just being someone to come and do a bit of cleaning “on occasion” but I could smell a rat. And, no sooner than the lady had left that first day and Grandma cames to me, informing me that, “K.M. [the lady] is forty-something years old, has lived with her parents all her life, has never held a job in her life, and told me she thinks it is time she got out and experienced some of life. So she said she would be glad to do work for me for free, and come live with us for free. And she has so much in common with us. What do you think?”

To say I saw a few problems with this would be an understatement. Just about every alarm bell I had was going off inside my head–about every aspect of this whole situation. Without going into the finer details of the insanity of determining you were great chums with a woman after having only met her for two hours–not to mention all the other problems–I told Grandma in no uncertain terms that I thought it was a very, very, bad idea. To which Grandma said, “Well, I didn’t tell her anything yet. We’ll just have her come over and do some cleaning and see how we get along.”

This I took as a complete dismissal of my opinion. So, as Grandma walked away, I was left to consider what I would do in the eventuality that Grandma decided to invite this perfect stranger to come live in her house. I came to conclude that not only would this be a repeat of the disaster with Melinda (this stranger being no more closer to Grandma’s desired perfection) but that I wanted to have no part in such a repeat performance, and further, on personal grounds, I was highly uncomfortable sharing a house with a complete female stranger. Bringing all of these together, I realized that I could not simply sit by if Grandma persisted down this reckless and delusional path. If it came down to it and she over-rode my objections, I would pack up and leave.

But I didn’t want it to come to that. So I called my Uncle Nate and Aunt Daryl to let them know what Grandma was doing (since they didn’t approve of Grandma’s intention to bring another person in she had kept them out of the loop). Both were, to degrees, surprised and appalled. They both said they would do what they could to dissuade Grandma. Daryl in particular saw this as the first step in the end-game of getting rid of Grandpa and was willing to take some drastic steps to put a stop to this particular gambit.

I think Daryl talked to Grandma sometime in the following week. Daryl had told me she would talk to Grandma on the weekend when she came up and obliquely address the issue, but somebody talked to Grandma during the week because one day she became unaccountably mopey—indicating some type of put down. Whether the conversation was oblique, delicate, or something else, I don’t know. But Grandma at least got the hint that she wasn’t being supported.

How it all played out I don’t know. I told those who I thought might have some influence (Nate and Daryl) what Grandma appeared to be intending, and what I would do if she went through with it over my objections. Whatever they may have said or did they didn’t give me a report, so this entire incident played out behind the scenes. Though Grandma never verbally went beyond the ostensible “The lady will only come over for occasional cleaning” my sense is that she got enough friction and push-back on her deeper intentions that she has decided to shelve that idea . . . at least for now.

That is presently behind us, but those days when Grandma had this cleaning lady over were some very miserable days for me. Nothing like feeling as if you’re dealing with a home invasion. I tried to be nominally polite to a complete stranger while at the same time facing the very real possibility that Grandma would use any and everything to advance her goals, and I might be dealing with a confrontation at any moment. I kept myself scarce, kept my mouth shut, and it passed for the time being.

Incident Three

Grandma doesn’t keep me informed of her schemes in advance, so if Daryl hadn’t given me a heads-up about what Grandma started the last time she was in the hospital I would have been caught off guard when one Monday morning Grandma told me a lady was coming over from social services to “evaluate” Grandpa. As it was, with Daryl’s warning I had been somewhat expecting this development (unhappy as I was with it).

As usual, she presented it in spin mode. She said that Grandpa was only going to get worse and eventually I (Rundy) was going to need help, so we had to get things started now, in advance. Whenever possible, she likes to present things as something she is doing for someone else because they need it. But she can’t even play that game really well, because in the same conversation that she tells me we need to do this so I’ll have help when I need it, she tells me how sometimes she just can’t stand Grandpa and if he only has six months left then hospice will take care of him–giving the very strong impression that really what is going on here is that she can’t stand Grandpa and is hoping this lady will evaluate Grandpa and tell Grandma he has six months left and hospice will take care of him, thus riding Grandma of her burden. There are a lot more than six months left for Grandpa’s Alzheimer’s to run its course, and I knew Grandma wasn’t going to get any nice solution she was hoping for, but I said nothing.

What really bothered me was that Grandma didn’t want to tell Grandpa what was going on. The day the social services lady was supposed to arrive I had to really bite my tongue. I didn’t want Grandpa to be surprised, but at the same time I didn’t feel it was my place to be explaining what Grandma was doing. Grandma could explain her own betrayal, thank you very much.

So, five minutes before the lady is supposed to arrive Grandma tells Grandpa to put on some socks (Grandpa’s toenails are ugly, so when guests are around Grandma likes to have his feet covered up).

Grandpa, sensing something a little odd in this request says, “Why?”

“Oh, because,” Grandma says airily.

“But why?” Grandpa persists. (Grandma usually doesn’t care if Grandpa has socks on, and Grandpa still has enough of his facilities to recognize this special request.

“Oohhh, someone might stop in,” Grandma says vaguely.

Now Grandpa really smells a rat. “Who?” he says. “Who might come?”

“Oh . . . just a friend.” And Grandma quickly leaves.

Grandpa knows there is scheming. He looks at me and says, “Do you know what is going on?”

“I do,” I said. And much as I didn’t care to spill Grandma’s beans for her, I wasn’t about to play her game either. “Do you really want to know?”

“Yes, I want to know,” he said.

“Well, Grandma is having someone come over to evaluate you,” I said.

“Oh, geez,” Grandpa said. “That’s the first step to getting me shipped off. I wish . . .” but he didn’t finish.

The social services lady showed up, but nothing happened during that visit that I didn’t expect. In essence, the lady told Grandma that the current situation was the very best, and the only other alternative would cost Grandma all her money. Further, the lady gave no indication that Grandpa would be expiring any time soon. What Grandma thought of all of this, I don’t know. She is playing her cards close to her chest, but the fact that it would take all of her money to deposit Grandpa in a nursing home, and the fact that she was not given any time line of when she would be rid of him, can’t have spurred on any of her dreams.

The most dangerous new thing (from my perspective) that came out of the conversation with the social worker was the lady’s almost off-hand comment that “If he becomes too much there is this option called respite where you can send him away for just a week on your dime. It would give you a chance to recuperate.”

To which Grandma said, “Oh, I wouldn’t do that . . . unless it was a real emergency.”

Unfortunately, from where I’m sitting “emergencies” when Grandma feels she is at the end of her rope are happening a little too often here for such a statement to hold much comfort. Such a decision by Grandma to send Grandpa away for a week would not only be greatly traumatic for Grandpa but it would certainly provoke a head on confrontation between me and Grandma. (I couldn’t be party to Grandma throwing Grandpa out of the house for a week because she “couldn’t stand him anymore.”) So, seeing possible clouds on the horizon there, I made some discreet calls to Nate and Daryl to keep the appraised. If in two months Grandma decides she wants some “respite” I don’t want anyone caught by surprise.


And that is where things stand now. Those who have communicated with me in person have asked if things have “Settled down.” From this point in time I can say things have settled down . . . for now. The “for now” is the big qualifier. Grandma is all very nice to me in person. What she says behind my back, I don’t know. But I do know that she is aware I “conspired” against her intentions to get the cleaning lady to move in, and she at least suspects (if not fully aware of) my contravailing opinions regarding Grandpa and so is surely chalking up my offenses against her.

Things have settled down, but it feels (to me) that this is only a lull. The board is prepared, the game is set . . . it is only for the players to begin to make their moves. Presently, Grandma is feeling quite well right now (for her) so I think she feels she can bide her time. Since she was given so much push-back over her recent explorations she has decided to withdraw for the present. But as far as I can see neither her attitude nor her thoughts have been changed, so the entire issue has simply been pushed off for another crises. That may be two months, four months, six months . . . whenever. The day of reckoning will come.

The whole thing does feel like some sort of “game” where everyone is trying to maneuver their pieces on the board. When Melinda was the subject of Grandma’s ire she could find varying degrees of sympathetic ears from her sons and daughters. Now that her source of discontent is Grandpa the situation is changing. None of Grandpa’s children want him in a nursing home, but nobody wants to have a confrontation with Grandma, so people are trying to manipulate things as subtly as possible so that Grandma is “check-mated” into being unable to dispose of Grandpa. In this grand game my role has come to be that of “bad cop.” Not that I’ve been regulated this role out of any sense of malice on the part of others—it’s simply, to put it bluntly, the most practical method. If you’re not going to confront Grandma and you need to check her ambitions, you need a third party to use as that check. So the two pronged approach comes down to something like “You can’t do that because you can’t afford it,” and “You don’t want to do that because you’ll alienate Rundy.” That statement about me is true, and my shoulders are big enough to carry the role of playing bad cop, but I’m not sure if people are wisest to take this route. Using me as a pawn to check Grandma will only work so long as she finds me indispensable, and people are wagering that I will remain indispensable. I’m not so confident.

As Grandpa continues to degrade and Grandma feels a growing need to create an optimistic future I suspect she will grow increasingly willing to pay any price to get that future. But who knows? I’m not good at playing this sort of game. I much prefer a honest declaration of views and intentions, but that is not how people wish to work this out. So I see the board is out, the game is set . . . and we’ll see how all of this place out. But, while there is a lull now as the players wait to make their moves, I don’t see a peaceable conclusion.

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