I’m sharing this story…


… at the request of the dear woman to whom I origanally sent it four years ago.

We used to care for Richard’s dear great aunt. She lived with us for a time before she required more skilled care prior to her death. We were grateful for that special time with her, and the experience and her presence in our children’s lives has proven to have been profound. Know that she was a funny and exceptionally intelligent woman, for whom my dear spouse always had the greatest love and respect. Because of his love for her, I was fortunate to come to love her, too. We moved her from New Jersey in 2002 to live close by in an assisted living home. When she needed more assistance than they offered, but would have been unhappy in a nursing home, we moved her in with us. She had a stroke on Halloween in 2005 and needed more care than we could provide. She passed away in Janaury 2006.


Aug. 2005

I was going to send you a nice email. But I think Auntie is cutting up a Depends and trying to flush it down the john.  I woke this morning to find a paper towel note on the counter that said

“Please go to the drugstore and get me some Modess. I am menstruating.”

I tried to convince her yesterday that this could not be so. She is 94 and that would be one for the record books. Her response … maybe I’m not 94. YOU tell me I’m 94. Maybe I’m not. Oh. Then I reminded her of her hysterectomy 50 years ago. She says oh yes, I remember that, but could you find a drugstore that can deliver Modess? (Modess?!)

This started yesterday. She was actually in good spirits. Woke up, knew our names without a formal introduction. Had breakfast. Twice. She forgets that she has eaten and usually at around 10:30 corners me with a can’t-a-girl-get-a-decent-meal-in-this-joint request for breakfast. Instead of telling her that she’s already had her Total and tea, I just feed her again. (Telling her opens a different can of worms.) She complains the whole time that I’m waiting on her and if I would just show her where things are she’d be able to get breakfast herself. Hmmm. I wish I thought of that. (When the kids help, she accuses me of securing child labor to wait on her.)

So … we had plans to visit friends in Grand Blanc. Auntie, too. Of course. She got dressed and asked about 30 times what our plans were for the day. I just try to answer as if it’s the first time I’ve heard the question. (You have to in order to remain sane. If you let the repetition grate on you it starts that blood-boiling feeling. Not at all productive.)

Then just as we were preparing to go, the menstrual saga began. She obviously scratched herself or something. She’s on blood thinners, and it takes a little longer for bleeding to stop. Her skin is paper thin. I couldn’t get her out of the bathroom. She kept telling us to go on with out her. Which, of course, we can’t. Finally, I came up with a Depends. Gave that to her, trying to pass it off as a pad of some sort. She didn’t quite buy it because there was no belt. She finally accepted it but not without major complaint. An hour after our planned departure time we finally piled in the van and headed north. 

A few minutes into the trip she asked where we were going, because apparently the first 30 times wasn’t quite doing it. I answered (with glee, mind you). She began this whole monologue about she wished she had been told where we were going, how would you feel if you were not told. She doesn’t know these people and they don’t want her there and when we get there they won’t like her because they will have learned about her from me and … (this goes on and on and on and on). The tone in her voice was this kind of rambling monotone. Just loud enough to be heard but not conversational. For an hour. I tried to ignore it. I started singing. Put on music. Whatever I could to avoid being sucked into the vortex. Richard and I would look at each other and occasionally (silently) laugh … because there was nothing else we could do.

We got to our destination. She was entirely cordial. She puts on an awesome game face in all social situations. She went to the bathroom several times. Not a mention of menstruation. Whew! She was the perfect guest. We had a lovely time. It was time to go, and we piled back in the van.

Thus began the journey home. It started all over again. The monotone complaining. She had requested a Ricola from her bag, which was in her walker in the back of the car. We stopped for gas and Richard got one for her. Once we were on the road, she asked for her whole bag of Ricola — which was still in the back of the car — so she could offer them to everyone. I assured her it was unnecessary because Richard, Helen and I didn’t want one, Henry couldn’t have one, Mary Claire was sleeping. She was outraged. By us denying her the opportunity to offer Ricola she would now be perceived as a skin flint. (huh?) She’s never been perceived as a skin flint! On and on. Then she said she should go back to the American House. They said she was welcome to visit ( — not live) any time. On an on and on and on. Occasionally she would reach forward and tap on my shoulder to try to get my attention. Richard put on some classical music and if you could picture this … it felt like I was a captive in silent movie with the racing piano music and this comical old-lady character with the bony fingers reaching from behind to scare the heck out of me every few minutes.

When we pulled up the driveway we had to have words to get her out of the car. By words I mean I was raising my voice more than a little. (Which, by the way, is not my favorite approach but sometimes the only successful one.) Then we got in the house and the Modess talk resumed. Not missing a beat. I convinced her to get ready for bed. Told her I was done talking about it. Gave her her meds (with an extra-added bonus of a Tylenol PM) and hoped we would wake up refreshed, renewed and requiring reintroduction.

Richard and I put the kids to bed then sat in the family room in front of our pathetic 13-inch TV to catch up on the day’s news. When I heard Auntie’s bedroom door open I panicked. I knew I’d had just about all I could take for the day, and arguing with her or discussing things over and over doesn’t help secure the point. So I hopped up and turned off the TV. And there we were, Richard and I, crouched on the floor between the couch and train table hoping not to be discovered by a menstruating-94-year-old lady without a uterus. She stood in the dining room going over and over her need for Modess and could I get her some. But she wasn’t really talking to anyone. Because as far as she knew, I wasn’t there. This went on forever. Richard and I had to fight off the giggles because laughter is the best medicine (next to Valium). After she finally retired to her room and shut the door, we discussed whether or not that was the right approach. Were we being unkind? But since we’ve been through it with her before, we agreed it was best because there was nothing more we could do to make her feel more settled. And sometimes, like a child, ignoring is the only solution.

To contrast this story, the other day I got her to take bath. Her first bath (or shower) in more than three years. A few weeks ago I began by planting the seed.

“Wouldn’t a soak in the tub be nice? Maybe someday when Richard and Henry are out you could take a nice long bath. Look at this nice handle on the tub so you can get up? Aren’t these soft towels for after a bath?”

Work it girl. 

On Saturday she was in an agreeable-enough state to get her to respond to my suggestion. She really relaxed. Enjoyed soaking in the tub, the warm water, the fresh-scented soap. I washed her back and trimmed her nails. She sobbed at her nakedness but then rejoiced at the care I was giving her. I felt so blessed and humbled. She stayed in her housecoat for hours, truly at peace.

It’s those simple graces that remind me why we’ve taken on what we’ve taken on and help me cope with the lunacy.

This morning, my spouse took the children fishing with my dad and I’m here, waiting for the games to begin. Will we sail on rails like the Millennium Force or have a day of scraping steel like the Demon Drop? Ah the adventures of life. (I thought you’d appreciate the Cedar Point analogy.)

God Bless you dear friend. I hope all are well and you are enjoying this Labor Day weekend. I would have sent this earlier this morning … but I had to feed Tante Yvonne … Twice. 🙂

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the first thing she asked for this morning was for Modess. Oh boy. I hear scraping steel.

5 thoughts on “I’m sharing this story…

  1. I remember that story well especially since I am the Grand Blanc friend 🙂 It made me laugh and cry. You always inspired me with how wonderful and patient you were with her – you were as blessed to have her as she was to have you!
    Love you and your blog!

  2. Pingback: Re-tell me a story | Five Halos

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