Sean Beckwith: Loving the ones you’re with
January 9, 2018
Going home can mean many things. After work, there's not much better than the moment you walk in the door free of daily obligations. For many of Aspen's transplants, going home means a welcome respite from the busy season and seeing how many friends or family you can convince to come visit. When someone tells you "go home" in an aggressive way, it's slang for buzz off. I'm home right now in the sense that I'm where I grew up, seeing grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
For two people in my life, going home has significantly heavier weight to it. My grandmother Mary is in her new home after a long battle with dementia. I grew up Catholic, so her new abode is somewhere above us. She spent a large portion of her life preparing herself and family to be in a moral position to go to heaven, where she, by many of the accounts shared in the past few days, undoubtedly is now. You can prepare yourself for a loss when you know it's coming; what to think about when you feel yourself succumbing to tears brought on by memories, (for me, the Portland Trail Blazers were on my mind often this week) and you can even begin the grieving process while they're still living.
I always think of "Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka, one of the few philosophy books I've read. It's about a salesman who wakes up one day and realizes he's a changed into a giant bug. The rest of the text is about how his family and friends distance themselves from the man they once knew because he's no longer relatable; they know he used to have the human form of a son, brother, friend and employee, but now he has zero of the qualities that made him human.
My professor led a discussion after the reading and posed the question: If you can't make memories with a person anymore, how alive are they really? Being a morbid college student who had never lost anyone extremely significant at that point, I said something along the lines of "they're not and you should move on."
What I didn't understand before the discussion is this happens all the time. No one is ever going to change into a bug — that's ridiculous — but people can get a disease that takes everything from them, including eventually their life. Before that happens, though, they progressively lose the qualities that make them human — the ability to speak, form thoughts, listen, hug, etc.
Some people stay away because they don't want to see a person they love in such terrible shape. While I saw my grandma every time I came to Omaha during her demise, it wasn't something I enjoyed because this wasn't the person I grew up with, the person who used to rattle off her sons' names (and occasionally a cousin's) before getting to my name to tell me to stop whatever roughhousing I was getting into. ("Jim, Jerry, Paul, Joe, Andy, Sean, cut that out.")
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However, even though I couldn't interact with her the way I once did, it was about more than showing her that she was loved; it was about showing my grandpa, mom, dad, aunts and cousins that all of the pain they're enduring every day isn't their burden alone, that they have people to lean on when they need it.
Going home to my Grandpa Stan (my dad's dad, not Grandpa Jerry, the husband of my now departed Grandma Mary) means everything. That's all he wants. He was recently moved into a care facility because he's been diagnosed with a form of dementia. He doesn't understand why his family won't let him go home and watch football with his wife and dogs.
He doesn't have the resources that Grandma Mary had to see out his life from the comfort of home. He believes his family is against him because he doesn't realize that he's a danger to himself and others because of this disease.
His new home is scary and full of people who are at a more advanced stage of dementia, basically a glimpse of what's in store for him. I didn't like being there — the smell, the fluorescent lights, the constant buzzing of the alarm — but I did enjoy seeing him, hugging him, hearing him tell me he loves me.
I wish he knew the sadness his family is going through and the feeling of helplessness that is watching someone battle an affliction that doesn't have a cure. But more than anything else, I wish he could go home and sit with Grandma Pat and Sammy, his dog. I love you, Grandpa Stan, and look forward to seeing you soon.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.