The Illustrious Marvino

May 6, 2014 at 6:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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How to describe my Grandpa Marvin…he wasn’t your typical grandpa, that’s for sure. He had an incredible career as a journalist, he traveled the world, married on numerous occasions, and drank like a fish. He always had a story to tell, a basketball game to watch, a poker game to play. He loved when my sister mistakenly called him “Uncle Marvin” instead of grandpa. He once took my three-year-old cousin, Erin, to a bar and taught her to play pool. Fiercely independent, he marched to the beat of his own drummer, sometimes (most times, as inevitable divorce loomed ahead) to the detriment of his family; my mother, aunt Cary, and my grandmother. Despite it all, he’s family and we love him. Which makes this year one of the hardest my family has had to face.

My parents retired in January 2013 with so many plans to travel and enjoy their free time. But things started going downhill for Marvin shortly after they got back from their trip to see me in Florida. He called at all hours of the day and night, confused about what time it was and when my mom would be picking him up to go to the doctor or out shopping. His macular degeneration had gotten so bad that he was legally blind. And the man who prided himself on remembering every name, date and detail as clear as a bell was starting to forget. Everything.

Soon my parents were driving to his apartment downtown once a week, then twice a week, then almost every day. In May they found him an apartment in Lee’s Summit so he’d be closer to them. My mom started cooking him meals and bringing them over. She brought him books on tape and DVDs from the library. He called her numerous times a day. She or my dad would have to rush over there late at night to attend to his minor emergencies. And by the end of the summer it seemed that grandpa needed more help than my bedraggled parents could manage. It was time for Assisted Living.

Here’s the thing you need to know about good ol’ Marvin: He never expected to live past 65. Heavy drinking, heavy smoking, heavy living would take their toll, he was sure of it. But predicting life and death is as pointless as playing the lottery. And now with no retirement savings, no plans for old age, it fell to his descendants to make sure he was provided for. He never wanted it to come to this. He was constantly apologizing for having become such a burden. He got terribly depressed. He wanted to die.

One afternoon, sometime after we moved to Wichita, I was visiting with my parents while grandpa was there. I’d brought Liam, and my sister came over with her kids. It was a busy day – my parents had finally found an assisted living place that would take Medicaid and that finally had a room for him. It had taken them months of research, calling, asking around. And it was going to cost a lot of their hard-earned retirement money, unfortunately. But he had a spot, and the place was very nice. So they spent the afternoon moving his furniture while Jill and I stayed with grandpa and the kids. Grandpa got tired and decided to take a nap, and Jill offered to go get us some lunch. The kids were playing quietly, grandpa was sleeping, all was quiet…before the storm.

When grandpa awoke, he got terribly confused. He thought he needed to get ready for the morning, take his teeth out, take a shower. I tried to reason with him, and he got very agitated. My parents warned me he’d become very OCD about his teeth and showering. He was constantly taking his teeth out, taking a shower, then putting them in. And if he did it in the wrong order, he’d have to start over again. A symptom of Alzheimer’s, we were told. So he was sitting on the bed, half dressed, fiercely cursing at me, and I was fighting back tears, holding his hand, heartbroken to see him this way. Of course, the children picked then to start screaming about something, but he seemed relatively calm, so I was able to leave him in the bedroom until my parents got back. After an hour he was back to himself.

Assisted living had its ups and downs. He was still constantly calling my parents, and they could hardly leave town to go anywhere in case something happened. He went through two room mates before they finally decided it was best he have his own room. He threatened suicide and landed himself at the Truman Medical Psych Ward for a week. Grandpa grew increasingly more paranoid, swearing that “they” were out to get him. That people were outside his window talking about him, spying on him. He once told me his shoes could turn him invisible. He claimed to have worked on FDR’s presidential campaign. He thought he’d skipped a bunch of birthdays and now he’s 100 years old. He talked a lot about his past, hung up on regrets, extremely depressed. He got his facts confused, and he’d fixate on things that never happened. If he got to ranting too much, the staff would settle him down in the sauna with a glass of chocolate wine, and he’d simmer down. His old friends made a point of visiting him when they could, taking him out to lunch at Neighbors or eating with him in the dining area. My sister and I brought our kids up there sometimes, and my parents brought him over to their house for Sunday dinners. All was relatively well until the big fall.

Seems like there’s always a big fall. Just one slip on my parents’ front porch, and blam, broken hip, paramedics, hospital stay, rehab. Now it’s looking like he’ll have to stay in nursing care, which might be a good thing for him. His Alzheimer’s decline was getting worse, and it was only a matter of time before he’d need round-the-clock nursing care. He lost so much weight that his teeth don’t fit him correctly anymore. His last bastion of civility, keeping a clean-shaven face, has fallen by the wayside. We’d never seen him with a five o’clock shadow, much less a beard.

photoLast weekend Jill and I paid him a visit along with his step-daughter, Renata, visiting from NYC. He was pretty depressed when we arrived, but Jill offered to give him a shave, and we wheeled him outside for some fresh air. Renata is amazing – I got to know her better when we lived in NY – and I think she was a bit shocked to see “Marvino” who she always had a special bond with. The last couple of times I’d seen grandpa in this new rehab place he was depressed and withdrawn. But he lit up when we three girls showed up to rescue him. He became noticeably more lucid, almost his old self. Though he did confide in us that he’d made four-star general in the Army last week. From the guy who’s never served a day in his life! We grinned and played along.

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After weeks of rehab, hopefully he’ll be able to walk again, though probably with the help of a walker. Mom said typically when the elderly enter full-time nursing care, they only last about six months, according to the nurses there. Morbid, I know. But this whole experience has me pondering the societal norm, watching our beloved grandparents wither away to nothing, losing their minds and their dignity. If Marvin could have his way, he would have gone peacefully in his sleep months ago. As it stands, all we can do is wait, visit him as much as we can, make sure he’s well cared for and reasonably happy. Even though we know most of the time he’s not.  

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