Bad Night, Bad Day

It has been awhile since I wrote, I know. I have been keeping busy.

I have had my good days and my bad days, and plenty of just average days. But those bad days are always hiding around the corner, ready to spring on me soon as I let my guard down–when I’m least prepared–and smack me up-side the head. I must always be ready for those bad days.

And bad nights. Bad nights often come before bad days. If the bad day comes first, there is a good chance the night will be okay–Grandpa will be so tired from the day that he will sleep through the night. But if Grandpa has a bad night, the following day will certainly be bad as well. Tiredness has a huge impact on Grandpa’s ability to function, all the more so as he declines. It’s a terrible thing to be in the middle of a horrible night and knowing that the next day is going to be even worse.

And those bad nights can spring out of nowhere.

Last night started out okay. In fact, it started out pretty good. I got Grandpa into bed with no unusual trouble, sang him a few hymns and was in bed myself and turning out the lights at 10:30 PM. That isn’t going to bed early, but it isn’t going to be terribly late for my present life, either. I was looking forward to a decent nights rest.

At midnight Grandpa woke up.

And I’m not sure he went back to sleep for the rest of the night.

These kind of disasters unfold slowly (as there are many hours in the night) and at first one isn’t entirely sure how bad it will end up. A lot of time is spent hoping it will all be over in the next five minutes. Sometimes there is an obvious reason from Grandpa’s insomnia–a head cold or chest congestion. But other times there is no explanation outside of Grandpa’s own broken mind.

I don’t know why he didn’t go back to sleep. Maybe I should have changed his diaper. Maybe a wet diaper was keeping him awake. But he has slept with a wet diaper many nights before without the least trouble. Sitting here, looking back, that is the only reason I can possibly come up with. But I don’t think there was any reason as such. I think he woke up because he had to go to the bathroom and when he woke up his mind wandered off down a dark path and couldn’t find its way back. It was one of those fateful occasions when Grandpa forgot he was supposed to be sleeping.

At least that is my explanation.

In any case, Grandpa didn’t quietly go back to sleep. He began to agitate, and talk. I lay down on my bed, and tried to go back to sleep. He agitated, and I hovered on the edge of sleep, thinking, “Please, let him lay his head down and go back to sleep.”

But it was not to be. If he lay down for a moment he would soon be sitting back up again, fiddling with his bed and talking.

Seeing that we might not get a quick end to the matter, I donned my ear plugs, put a pillow over my head, and tried to ignore Grandpa and go to sleep. I may have dozed. I was aware that he still was not settling down but I persisted in trying to jump off into the oblivion of sleep. It ended in failure as I was conscious of Grandpa getting more agitated, and sleep fled away. I removed earplugs and pillow to find Grandpa sitting on the edge of his bed with some object of clothing in his hand, a dresser drawer pulled out and on the floor.

I tried to pretend it would all go away.

At this point I recognized all the signs of a disastrous night. Grandpa was in his “lost” state where (a) It was impossible to speak intelligently to him (b) it was impossible to get him to do anything, and (c) there was nothing tangible he actually needed. The end result is that he would fumble around doing things about the room, asking questions of thin air, and talking to himself in an attempt to find himself–a futile effort that would only end when exhaustion overcame him and he would fall asleep. There was nothing I could do except ride it out, and try to guess when he was finally tired enough that some physical prompting would get him to lay down and fall asleep.

I find it very difficult to deal with this type of situation. In the middle of the night I am groggy, not thinking clearly, and desperately want to sleep. If I grasp a clear need I usually can muster myself up to answer that need and then go back to sleep (or try to go back to sleep). But in such a situation as this, I don’t know what to do. The first impulse is to roll over in bed and try to will Grandpa into a different world and go back to sleep. That rarely works for me. So I usually end up laying there in a state of dozing, thinking I ought to do something (but what?) as the minutes grind by.

The idea is to get Grandpa back into bed and asleep, but how? The temptation is to sit up and snap, “Get back in to bed, lay down, and go to sleep!” as one would to an unruly child. I haven’t done that (yet) because it won’t work. It might make Grandpa angry, it might make him hurt, but it wouldn’t make him any more cognizant of where he was or what he was supposed to be doing. Perhaps the ideal thing to do would be to turn all the lights back on, gently coax him back to bed, and sing him songs until he settles down and goes back to sleep. That might be the best thing to do. But, somehow, lying on my bed in an exhausted doze getting up and putting on a pleasant attitude and doing all those things and thoroughly waking myself up seems like a herculean task beyond accomplishing.

The end result is that I settle for a middle ground of lying there until I guess Grandpa might be at the point of exhaustion–and I have gathered up the willpower to get myself out of bed. Then I go and physically pick him up and put him back into bed and hope that I was right, and he is tired enough to go back to sleep. Otherwise in a few minutes he will be up and back at it.

The dark hours are filled with a monologue like this:

“Hmmm. I wonder if those were the Northern lights.”

“What is this?”

“What should I do with this?”

“Where does this go?”

“What did you say?”

“Are you awake Ma?”

“Where are you?”




“What am I doing?”

“Where am I?”

“I don’t know where I am.”

“Oh hum hum hum.”

Such monologue will go on endlessly, and if one question is answered by me it will only be quickly followed by another. If you have ever had a younger sibling who would ask questions on into the wee hours of the morning, you know the routine. If I answer with the least bit of irritation in my voice it is common for Grandpa to become indignant–that I should be irritated over his most reasonable activity. So since nothing productive ever comes of me answering his questions, I find it saves my breath, energy, and irritation to simply be silent most of the time and let his words just wash over me. Intelligible words mingle with the unintelligible, moaning and groaning intermixed. It is as if the stream of noise is there simply to keep himself from falling back to sleep. Eventually he will get out of bed and start crawling about the room, fiddling with the floor, fiddling with the dresser, fiddling with the stuff under my bed, fiddling with my bed, and fiddling with me.

On these worst nights I contemplate leaving to sleep someplace else. But, while that might seem an easy decision, it is not. I want to do the right thing, the Christ-like thing, and simply abandoning Grandpa the moment he starts to infringe on my sleep does not strike me as the most loving action. But even on a practical level, that option can be deceptive. If Grandpa doesn’t get a good nights rest, he is going to be a disaster the next day–and I will have to face that. Walking out the moment he starts causing trouble might mean I won’t have to deal with him then–but if I don’t guide him back to bed and sleep as soon as possible I may well have a worse problem in the morning than if I stuck around and got him back to bed sooner.

Like I said, knowing what is the right thing to do, and the wise thing to do, is hard to see and act upon at 2:00 AM.

At 4:00 AM I put Grandpa back in bed for the second time in those fours hours since midnight. I’m sorry to say I didn’t do it with gentle affection. I roughly deposited him in bed, and he started to struggle. Which was to be expected. One thing is sure in midnight disasters: I don’t know what I should do and I do know what I shouldn’t do–and so I do what I know what I shouldn’t do, ending up with the results I knew would happen. Then I don’t know if I am more mad at Grandpa or myself. At least I should have known better

So it is 4:00 AM and after spending four hours keeping himself awake Grandpa appears to be still going just as strong as he was at midnight. As best as I can tell he has only had two hours of sleep for the night (and myself no better). Sometimes I wonder how an eighty-year-old man can do it. You would think shear exhaustion would set in after two hours, and certainly after four. But at this point it was clear the night had become a complete disaster and unmitigated disaster, and there was no possible way I could remedy it. Not only was the night shot, but it was now guaranteed that Grandpa would be a disaster for the following day, which meant I had another 12 hours to slog through before I had any chance at recuperation. My choice was leaving Grandpa and getting maybe two hours of peace and quiet–if not sleep–somewhere else in the house before the next twelve hours started, or else staying with him and listening to his monologue until dawn broke.

There didn’t seem to be much of a choice.

I left and went downstairs to try to get what sleep I could on a piece of furniture. I slept maybe two hours. When I woke I went back to check on Grandpa and found him now sitting on my bed, still fiddling with things and muttering to himself, the room in even greater disarray than when I had left. By all appearances he hadn’t slept in those two hours.

And thus began the bad day.

The lack of sleep rendered Grandpa completely mindless. He was effectively incapable of eating, drinking, or moving himself about the house all day. Each meal became a great effort to get him to eat something. At breakfast he drank half a cup of coffee and dumped the rest on the floor. He was not even able to get a spoon into his mouth, so I had to hand feed him his breakfast. He only ate half a bowl, and refused any more. So I carried him into the living room and put him on the couch. He got off the couch and spent most of the morning on the living room floor, sleeping some. At lunch I wheeled him to the table in the wheelchair and laboriously managed to get him to eat most of a small tub of pudding and a small tub of chicken and noodles and vegetables. It was a process where every spoonful was a victory. At supper I managed to get him to eat a few spoonfuls of spaghetti and meatballs, a few sips of coffee, and a few bites of cake. That was all. I took him back to the couch, which he left and ending up sleeping on the floor for a good part of the evening.

If I was lucky, I got 500 or 600 calories into him all day and maybe 8 or 12 ounces of liquid. It was all expected–the day didn’t turn out one bit different than I anticipated. After awhile, you know how some things will go. Hopefully he will do much better tomorrow, and make up for what he lost today.

I survived the day okay. It is the second day after a bad night which kills you. Tomorrow will be tough.

But there is one good thing. Grandpa doesn’t have the strength to do two bad nights in a row. That is one thought I try to console myself with, when a sleepless night turns into morning, and a bad day dawns.

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