My grandmother has always been kind, strong, and independent, so it was a shock to see how much she had changed since the summer. She lay in bed all day, demanded things constantly from my sister, and roared and screamed with rage when things did not go her way. She yelled over the phone at the neighbor who was fixing the pump for free, and made her spend Christmas morning hand-digging a trench in freezing rain to lay new wiring to the well pump. I later gave the neighbor my annual bonus as a thank-you for that.
A typical day during Christmas would start with my grandmother calling for someone to take her blood sugar. I would run over and get her test kit; while I was doing so, she would ask for a glass of water. While my mom would get that, I'd prick her finger and get the blood sample; she'd ask me why I hadn't gotten her water yet. She would then ask for some cheese; my sister would run and get that. Just as my mom would arrive with the glass of water, she'd say she wanted eggs, and had asked for cheese an hour ago and still hadn't had anything to eat. My sister would arrive with the cheese, passing by my mom in the doorway as she ran to make eggs; my grandmother would then snatch the cheese from her and say that she could have died because of the poor care she was receiving, and ask why she didn't have any toast, and she needed her glasses to be cleaned, and her hearing aid batteries to be changed, and where were the eggs she had asked for? And why hadn't she had her pills yet?
She might have had a poor sense of the passage of time. Three people could not keep up with her requests, but my sister was her sole caregiver.
After her neighbor spent Christmas Day fixing the well, my grandmother made her drive two hours to pick her up and drive her back. My sister helped my grandmother into the car, but burst out with terrible racking sobs instead of getting into the back seat. I was proud of my mom - she initially tried to shush my sister and hide her from the neighbors, but uncharacteristically then tried to comfort my sister instead.
A few weeks later, my grandmother moved into a nursing home near my parents' house. My father then was placed into the same nursing home, and my sister and three cats moved into my father's old room. My mom and my sister never got along well before. Now that they are both former caregivers, they can relate better, and get along fairly well.
My grandmother's private room in the nursing home is large and nicely furnished, not much smaller than my apartment in Toronto. It's not as fancy as my other grandmother's home, as it is a government-funded home rather than a private one, but it is still very nice. The hallways are six metres wide, with elegant handrails on each side and padded benches at frequent intervals. A glass-doored cabinet outside each room holds keepsakes and mementos of the resident, adding personality and helping people find their way back to their room. There is a nice fenced garden courtyard, which allows people to go outside without fear of wandering off and getting lost.
Most importantly, my grandmother is thriving there. She misses being away from her boyfriend, who is in another nursing home at the far end of the province, but she never got to see him when she lived in her own home. The staff is kind and considerate, and will bring food to those who need it, but politely refuse to serve my grandmother. Now that she has to walk to the dining room to eat, her strength is back. She pushes a wheeled walker confidently at an uncomfortably brisk pace - I had to hurry to keep up with her. As she is around other people that serve as examples, her tone has become milder, and she is more polite than she was with my sister. And she seems much happier than before.