Friday, March 21, 2008

La Nonna Pina

My husband’s grandmother is 98 years old. She says she doesn’t know “why God has kept her here for so long”. She’s tired of living. She’s outlived so many people she loved, in particular her husband Carlo, Luca’s grandfather, who died 15 years ago.

As luck would have it, she’s healthy as a horse. She’s rail thin. She never gets sick. She lives alone in an apartment one floor below Luca’s parents, keeps it clean and organized, cooks for herself and walks to the grocery store and the hairdresser.

She’s proud, independent, rigid, frugal, an introvert, set in her ways. She spends most of the day in her apartment, refusing to “invade” her son’s life. She usually eats by herself, despite daily invitations, and was often found sitting in a chair with her arms folded on her lap, looking out the window.

It wasn’t until recently that she began to concern Luca’s parents. She’d leave the house and forget why she had done so. She’d show signs of not remembering recent conversations. (Both symptoms I frequently experience, but I’ll stick to the original subject.)

They began to worry that they couldn’t risk leaving her alone. What if she left the stove on? What if she went somewhere and forgot how to get back? A visit to the doctor revealed initial signs of senile dementia, which, although normal for her age, placed an enormous burden on her caretakers.

Luca’s parents decided to hire someone who could stay with her a couple of times a week, to give them some freedom and less cause for apprehension. She was furious. She said she preferred to go to a home rather than have someone in her house. At first, this was received with horror and guilt, but gradually it was decided that this was indeed what needed to happen. The event was so traumatic that Luca flew to Italy for two days to lend an ear.

A home was found outside Milan where she’d have a beautiful room with high ceilings and a view of the park. When the day arrived that they had to pack her things and drop her off they were sad, anxious and wracked with guilt. Stories abound about how these homes are where people leave their family members to die.

Instead, Luca’s grandmother took to it like a fish to water. On her first morning, upon waking up, she took a fitness class. She now shares meals with people who are much younger than her (80), watches movies, plays bingo – a far cry from sitting on a chair and looking out into empty space, waiting for death to finally arrive. She goes to the chapel, and then takes tea every day at 5:00 p.m.

Luca’s parents drop by twice a week, and have reported she has put on a couple of pounds. On their last visit, they noticed she was tan – she had spent the day in the park with her new friends.

I know she speaks with Carlo every day. I know he hides in the shadows where only she can see him, and that she yearns to be with him again. I know too he is happier now that time will go much faster for both of them.

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