My grandmother was not the first elderly person to benefit from having a pet, nor was she the last. Pet companionship is fantastic because you can talk to a dog or cat all day, and they don't care if a story is repeated, or even if you're talking to them. While it's true that most pet dogs recognize about the same number of words as the average human two-year-old, what they really respond to is the sound of the human voice.
Some of the best stories I've heard came from my grandparents. Sometimes these were made-up tales - bits of fiction to entertain small children - but other times they were gifts of memories, personal or family histories, things that make us who we are.
As caregivers, we must be aware that the people we support often react to the change of seasons with heightened emotions. When my grandmother was first sliding into dementia, the simple act of packing away her summer clothes and bringing out her warmer winter wardrobe would make her anxious. Where were her belongings going, and would she get them back?
At six, eight, ten, thirteen, I was not afraid of storms, and even loved the electric crackle of lightning, and the distant (and not-so-distant) booming of thunder, which I imagined as a conversation among mythic figures, like the Greek gods and goddesses I read about in stories. As recently as 2019, I got excited when a storm bore my name, though of course I feel horrible about the damage caused by Hurricane Melissa, especially in the Carolinas.
Still, as I try to be as ruthless as possible with deciding what to store until we find a new house, what to bring with us for the month or two we'll be staying with my mother, and what to sell or give away, what I remember is all the ways Mom helped Grandma find comfort and a sense of home in a house that wasn't hers, and I thought I'd share them here, because it's something many of us will experience as our own parents age.
Going to the beach, then, became something of an adventure. We had to pack extra clothing and hygiene products (we were all in California by then, and unlike New Jersey, the beaches there don't all have restrooms and changing cabanas). Of course, we were all well trained in the art of changing behind towels held up by whoever was with you, but after my grandmother's hip replacement, she needed a wheelchair, and that made things a bit more complicated.
An image that comes to mind when I think about the grief experience is that of a nautilus. If you visualize a nautilus or look it up, you will see that each spiral is progressively higher and above as it goes around. This is probably the best analogy to illustrate why it is normal in a grief journey at any point: to go around and around through anger, frustration, blame, resentment, disapproval, laughter, joy, hope, motivation, stagnation, and more.
Planning makes sense. It takes the stress out of last-minute decisions where emotions are often under duress.