Andrew Buckley: That Bond

The 43 degrees in the outside shower did not deter me enough to skip shaving the other morning. The next day was forecast for 73 so I could tough it out this early October morning. NOAA’s long range forecast for the winter has switched course, calling for a warmer than normal December-January-February.

That could push the draining of the shower off until after the traditional date of Nov. 1. Until then, a microclimate of steamy subtropical rain forest will inhabit this corner of Chatham somewhere around 7 a.m. weekdays.

The creeping angle of the sun, though, and the later time of sunrise did put me in the mood for the next season. Christmas, especially. That will be tricky this year, with my mother at the Terraces nursing home in Orleans. Their policies, citing COVID-19 of course, make any visitation pretty difficult to schedule.

After her aortic dissection nearly eight years ago and subsequent hospitalization and stints in rehab hospitals, she returned home to a variety of home health aides. In July, at the very beginning, they were there 24 hours. Then the overnights fell to whomever was around. By September, that meant the people living in the addition built a few years prior – namely, Sofie and me.

On average, eight to nine months of the year, every night, for nearly six years. Frequently I would get a call at 2 a.m. to help my mom get out of bed, into her wheelchair, then back to bed half an hour later. It was an adjustment we made because we were right here.

If there had been a strong connection before between the grandmother who built onto her house so her infant grandchild could grow up in the same town as her, and the granddaughter who could walk down the hall and kiss grandma goodnight, it was made even stronger by this experience of suddenly-reversed caregiving.

Such was the following Christmas morning. As had been the tradition, Sofie, then 9, would come out of her room and see a blanket tacked up at the end of the hall leading to the living room with the waiting tree, stocking and presents.

She would know that she was to head over to Grandma’s side of the house, get herself together and then bring my mother over in the wheelchair, down the hall, through the blanket to share in the experience with Sofie of the surprise at what Santa and family had brought.

So I made breakfast for us all and waited. And waited. I called down the hall. Sofie said she was taking Grandma into the bathroom first. I waited another 10 minutes. This was a morning one of the home health aides would not be coming, so it would be all us.

It was now nearly 20 minutes since she went over and I called down the hall again that breakfast was getting cold. Sofie said that my mother needed help, was hemorrhaging a little, and so had called the EMTs. Until they left in the ambulance, Sofie stuck with her Grandma, keeping her in god spirits. After about an hour we returned to the living room, to open presents in a very different frame of mind.

Luckily, my mom got out of the hospital, into rehab and then home within several weeks.

This was pretty much how things went for next few years. Eventually Sofie moved her bedroom to my mom’s old room in the winter. Often she would go to sleep on the couch in the same room as my mom. Even as she became a teen, she’d end up snuggled next to her Grandma if either was having a bad dream.

When my mom did get a full-time live-in aide, it was Sofie who realized first that things were amiss. Coming back to tell me it was 10 a.m. and my mother still wasn’t out of bed or had breakfast. Or calling me to help her get up in the middle of the night. Time and again, until it was clear this wasn’t working out.

That sort of thing was invaluable. After years and years of being right there with me, knowing the routine, able to see how things really ought to run, and my mother’s confidante. Likewise, Sofie’s too.

The last of many trips to the ER landed my mom at the Terraces and since March. The ability to get these two together has been a logistical nightmare. Both have a tough past year, and that’s no coincidence. The teen years are rough, for sure for girls. The one reliable female role model in her life has been inaccessible. The separation has taken its toll.

My mom does best on the phone midday, which doesn’t really work for a school-age kid. Video calls have not worked out, either. When they have seen each other in visits, they’ve been limited to 30 minutes. Across a table, in public.

But they’ve still been able to talk about some important things. Overall, the quality of life for these two is greatly diminished. This was not the plan when my mom added onto her house, and sold her physical therapy practice and building years ago.

As I told Sofie way back when my mom was rushed to the operating room, every day with her from now on is a gift. She is still there mentally, thank goodness, as much as any of us are. She called me up just the other day to discuss the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment at Walter Reed (for those who know her, she was unimpressed, to say the least).

But despite the current inaccessibility to her, there’s one lesson to take from this history: A close connection to a grandchild can keep you going. For a town with a preponderance of seniors, it is certainly worth considering. That toddler may just be the one to keep you out of the nursing home for a while longer.

Maybe bring you back out of it, too.