Saturday, February 18, 2006

I am my own grandpa

My mother keeps me updated about my grandfather, a former glazier and cantor (a "cantor" is a Jewish singer for religious services -- he still sings a mean Yiddish operetta) who lives in an apartment complex for the old outside Ft. Lauterdale, Florida. From her emails:

September 23, 2005

I am trying to find a way to get Grandpa to stop driving. His license has expired and he failed his eye test and can’t get it renewed. He insists on driving even without a license and I am extremely worried. The police said that there was nothing they could do.
October 30
Grandpa went without electricity of food for about 3 days last week when a hurricane pulled wires down in Plantation. He was pretty ok eating peanut butter and drinking Sprite. He had a flashlight and walked around Hamilton House in the dark.
December 1
He told me last week that he was in China, then stopped, and said I probably saw China on the tv, don’t think I’ve actually gone there, don’t remember eating Chinese food in China.
December 8
Paul and I met with the staff of Hamilton House and worked out a way to handle the car. We will go through the state officials and they will tell him he no longer can drive. We are issuing an anonymous complaint about his competency to drive. I hope it works without him being furious at his daughters. We shall see.

I did several loads of laundry and tidied up his apartment. He was rebuffed by a woman who lives on his floor and was quite distressed about that. He started buying her oranges, peanut butter, etc and totally overwhelmed her with his neediness. She handled it very graciously –- I found the notes she sent him. Still, he was hurt. Poor guy.

January 13
Your grandpa went to buy a new jacket and drove “200 miles” to find Walmart (which is down the street from him). He got tired and the car started overheating so he left the car and then had to figure out how to get home. He saw a cop and asked him to drive him home, which he did.

The next day he called tow companies until he found one that would come to pick him up and help him look for the car which he had no clue where he left. Grandpa said that they drove around for 2 hours (probably 20 minutes) found the car which the tow guy towed back to Hamilton house. The next day when Grandpa went to try it out, it started up perfectly.

It is amazing how resourceful he is. Too bad when the cop tested grandpa and grandpa could not remember who the president was, the cop didn’t say to himself –- this guy should not be driving.

He just doesn’t want to give up his independence and his image of himself as fully competent – which I both understand and feel furious about. What will you guys do when I refuse to stop cooking but leaving the burners on, putting hot pots on the counters and burning them, etc. Hope that doesn’t happen. Got to be hopeful.

January 27
The place where he lives is now 100% occupied so they added 2 more seatings at dinner. Grandpa was assigned to the earliest time which was a different time given to the 3 women he has been sitting with for the last 6 months. He could not deal with this change and has been eating at restaurants instead of going to the dining room for dinner. Not such a good idea since he is driving without a valid license.

I really get how he cannot absorb changes. When he goes to Denny’s –- his new dining place –- he orders the same thing he always orders there: pancakes, french fries and coffee. It’s as if these foods and only these foods are connected to Denny’s. He doesn’t order at Denny’s the same meal he eats at the dining room at the Hamilton: chicken, salad, coffee ice cream. So interesting.

I have called several people who work there to help him sort this out and eventually something will be arranged that he can accept. He counts on certain routines being unchanged and when an unexpected change happens, he falls apart = a similar process to a severely autistic child.

I expect if Grandpa comes here for Passover he will cry the first day (as he did last year) and want to go home. He was terrified by the changes, by not knowing where the bathroom was, by the cold...

As with autistic kids, it makes it so clear how difficult change is for everyone. Most of us muster the strength to incorporate the change without too much distress, but still it takes some work. So just note this when you make any change –- that there is both excitement and anxiety about change, that you may need time to adjust, that it is normal to have some stress in any adaptation.