In a couple of weeks my paternal grandfather will turn 91. In some ways it is hard to believe that he is so old. I still remember the guy who pulled me in my wagon, took me to movies and a thousand other places. I remember the man who always told me a joke and laughed heartily at life.
At the grand old age of 91 my grandfather’s mind is still sharp. He can tell you stories about his time in the carnival business, regal you with tales of Winters spent in New Orleans and time hustling pool. There are stories about life in Vegas and his childhood in Chicago. He’ll tell you about his time in the army and fighting the battle of Victorville. It is a seemingless endless supply of stories.
But his recitation of these stories has grown limited. The times in which he speaks are fewer and farther between. That man doesn’t seem to be there right now. The stories are still there, he remembers them all but instead of laughter all I hear is silence. He is retreating. He is turning his gaze inward and spending more time sleeping or lost in his own thoughts.
This concerns me. I think that he and I are going to have a conversation about what his plans are for the near future. He hasn’t said it yet, but I suspect that in the back of his head he is asking himslef “what is there to live for.”
I have a special relationship with all of my grandparents, but in some ways he and I are closer. From a personality standpoint there are many similarities, but part of our bond stems back to my very early childhood. I remember the time between my grandmother dying and his meeting/marrying his second wife, who I came to call grandma as well.
It is a little more than two years since she passed away and he went to live with my father. Within that time frame his eyesight has dramatically deteriorated, he broke his pelvis and has had a number of age related health issues. I cannot imagine that any of that is easy and I rather suspect that he hates it. And I know that he misses being able to drive and is not thrilled about having to live with my parents.
At 91 his ability to roll with the punches is diminished. I think that there would be problems even if my grandmother still alive, but they are exacerbated by his loneliness. He won’t go to any senior centers or activities for seniors and you couldn’t make him if you tried. His stubborness is legendary.
So we find ourselves trying to get him to interact with us, encourage him to speak but it is not working so well.
If this attitude does not change I do not think that he will be with us for too long and in good conscience I cannot sit back and watch this any longer. I don’t have any profound insights or solutions to this problem.
My plan is very basic. I am going to ask him what his plans are and whether he wants to continue to live. I can speak in very direct terms with him. I can lay it out as starkly as it sounds here and not be worried because that is the kind of relationship he and I have.
I am afraid not to be blunt because I think that the time for being soft and sensitive is past. Very soon I am going to find out if he still has a fire in his belly and if not I am going to try and light it.
I don’t know what the outcome will be, but it cannot be worse than it is now.