99 years young

Hard to believe that my grandmother reached 99 today. Every year I wonder if will this be her last. In fact, I know that no day or tomorrow is a given. She will decide when it is her time. Today is what matters and it was such a joy…mother sent some extra money and yesterday said, do something nice for her – take the family out please. I said okay, I will try but it is so last minute. So I sent a few texts and two aunties, an uncle, a dear family friend and one of my second cousins were able to make the date with too little notice – their responses came within the half hour. I called the restaurant and asked if they could accommodate us including a wheel chair – no problem they said. John said he would meet me at the nursing home and since Bachan can no longer get in and out of our cars, we would push her the 10 minutes to our favorite Japanese restaurant down the street. Everything aligned.

This afternoon, I was running late to get to the nursing home but got a call from my aunt Irene – she was already there and had Bachan all bundled up for our walk. Not only that but she had home-made decorated cookies (about 40!), writing “Thank you” on each one then individually wrapping them so we could give them out to the staff at the home AND at the restaurant. Amazing! She and my uncle handed some out to the folks in Activities and in the lobby and the station that over saw my grandmother. I would pass some out to the other stations later. They left to meet us at the restaurant.

With John pushing grandma in her wheel chair and me chatting it up, I led us down the path. Up ahead, we saw 3 police officers blocking the sidewalk. We couldn’t tell what was going on. I was in front and a little nervous; If it was just us, we could take another path but with the wheel chair we had no other way. As we got closer, one officer seemed to smile and move into the grass. I smiled back and said, “we are taking my grandmother to celebrate her 99th birthday!” They were all smiling now and wished bachan a Happy birthday. John thanked them for their work. They seemed surprised and said, “Thank you very much!”

My grandmother asked again smiling, where are we going? She can’t quite hold on to the fact that it is her birthday but she knew we were all together happy. Dinner was lovely – all of us enjoying each other and somehow my grandmother knew we were all there for her. At the end, She brought her hands together and slowly bowed to honor us all – saying “thank you very much for doing this for me.” And she did it again saying in Japanese, “arigato gozaimasu” (thank you). It was really beautiful. To recognize our good intentions even if her mind does not hold all the specifics, to honor us like that –moved me so much. She often takes me by surprise – lights are still on in her mind, they just turn on and off at whim.

Of course, back at the nursing home, she didn’t remember anything that happened before. Still, her body remembered – she had a happy energy, an excitement. And when I went to get her Japanese flash cards, she took them herself and started going through them naming each one. Usually, I hold the cards up for her but it was like she had a new confidence. She read her Japanese book to me after that and made all the sounds big and strong. And, after our solitaire game she offered an enthusiastic BONZAI as she used to do but hasn’t done for awhile. I thought for a moment that it was my birthday not hers – so many gifts.

After finishing our routine of play, I had her give a cookie to her neighbor’s husband Mark who comes every day rain or shine to sit with his wife who does not speak or see really. Bachan gave him one and asked for his hand. She shook it and remarked on his warmth. She held his hand for a long time – somehow knowing that maybe he needed a little extra kindness tonight.

I gave two cookies to a new neighbor down the hall, Donna and her sister, Carmen who was visiting. Donna is only 50 but looks like 80; she had had a stroke, her eyes were very red – both looked like they had been crying. I offered the cookies and explain that my aunt had made them for my grandmother’s birthday and wanted us to share. Donna couldn’t stop looking at the flower shaped cookie with the hand-written thank you. She thanked me and held my hand. They were both smiling, forgetting for a moment that they had been sad.

Later, after putting my grandmother to bed, I made rounds with the rest of the cookies – I saw that the office of the doctor who oversees my grandmother’s treatment was open. He was doing some paperwork. He has always been pretty aloof. When I came to the door, I think he thought I was going to complain or ask for something because after I said Hello he said “what is your name?” in a stern way that sounded like “what do you want?” (there are two doctors only that oversee everything so I imagine they are pulled in many directions) I said my name and my grandmother’s and before he could object, pulled out a cookie for him and said, “this is for you – my aunt made them to celebrate my grandmother turning 99 and we wanted to thank you.” His face suddenly changed and a big smile took over as he said thank you back. Your welcome I said and waved goodbye as I let him have his privacy again.

So many simple sweet kind shifted moments….I could go on and on but it is late and there is much to dream on. May we all be gifted with moments of love and kindness and may we always feel loved and valued. Thank you for your friendship. Arigato Gozaimasu xoxo Happy Birthday, Obaachan!

bachan 99

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memory and thanks

❤️

Yesterday was hot and overcast and yet, such a beautiful full day. We picked up my grandmother from her nursing home in San Jose and drove her to Watsonville where the three of us went to get a Shiatsu treatment (a gift from John). We used to go regularly but the last time I had taken my grandmother, she seemed to forget where she was and how to breathe while on her stomach on the massage table – it scared me so I thought perhaps it was better to just massage her myself the best I could. Still, what I can do is pretty cosmetic and she’s been getting weaker and having aches from sitting in a wheel chair all day so, I called Ben Yamaguchi who runs the Shiatsu clinic with his wife and daughter out of their home and told him my concerns – I wasn’t even sure if she would be strong enough to get up the stairs or get onto the table – we can do it! he said. And, we did. Sure there were struggles and funny moments like my grandmother wondering who was the woman working on her back – this woman Chioye has massaged her over the years at least 20 times – they used to laugh and talk together in Japanese but my grandmother didn’t remember – Chioye was surprised that my grandmother seemed to have forgotten her Japanese. My grandmother was born in California, her parents who were born in Japan only spoke Japanese so this was her first language but English is spoken all around her and for all of her life really so it makes sense. Still, we were all happy to hear my grandmother start talking to Chioye in Japanese towards the end. It was like the dust just needed clearing. We all laughed a happy laugh;for different reasons – I laughed just because it made me happy (Ben was working on me on the table next to my grandmother) – Ben and Chioye laughed because apparently she said, “this (her own) elbow is in my way!” LOL. When the session was over, my grandmother took Chioye’s hand and thanked her for helping her.

Next, we drove towards Mount Madonna to the cemetery where my Uncle Bob lies. We didn’t tell my grandmother where we were going. She doesn’t really remember her first son died but I wondered if she would remember when we drove into the cemetery. She didn’t. She asked, why are we at a cemetery? I told her that we came to see Uncle Bob. She said, MY uncle!? No, I said. MY uncle, YOUR son. My bobby? she said. He’s gone? I didn’t know that. … If you know anyone with dementia, you know this is one of those heartbreaking moments that gets to get repeated. The heart starts to get a little stronger over time but it still pinches. Usually, I just let her believe all her loved ones are still alive somewhere. The only one who she knows is gone for sure is her husband – he’s been gone 30 years as long as they were married. The rest like her siblings, she assumes are still alive. Here at the cemetery though, I had to be more firm, gentle too of course. He’s been gone quite a while bachan, your mind just forgets things, it’s okay. We got her in the wheel chair and I picked some eucalyptus branches and blue flowers from the side of the dirt road next to the cemetery. These are for Uncle Bob. Oh, they are so pretty, she said quietly. John pushed her to the front of Uncle Bob’s grave. I placed the flowers in his vase. She studied his marker and then bowed to him from her chair. I cleaned his marker while she watched. She bowed again. They bowed together. She thanked us for bringing her to him.

We ended our day with a Japanese dinner of course – one that ended with my grandmother saying to the waitress, please come here, I have to shake your hand. Thank you for what you do she said as she held her hand.

May I always stay humble and grateful. May I never forget these moments or these lessons.

Gratitude

Lately, Mondays are my day off –Monday evenings I look forward to visiting my grandmother. Last Monday, I wasn’t able to see her so I was so happy to get to see her tonight. Happily, John came with me.

While I spoke with a few of the residents, John went to get my grandmother from her room. Whenever I’m gone longer than a week, I wonder if she will remember me…the mind is a funny thing especially when it is riddled by Alzheimer’s. After saying good-bye to our friends from the home, I headed towards my grandmother’s room – there came John and Bachan (already in her summer pj’s) around the corner. My grandmother had the biggest smile and was reaching out to me from her wheel chair. John stopped in front of me and as I crouched down, she held my head and pulled me towards her. We stayed like that for quite a while, not minding any one around – for that moment, it was just us. I am so glad you are here, she said.

Once I stood up, I held her hand and she squeezed hard while John pushed her chair…we went outside for a walk. Such a beautiful day, she said. The wind is blowing and it is perfect. This is a good light. That is a pretty flower. Thank you for taking me outside. Thank you for visiting me. I am so glad you are here. Nothing is taken for granted. It amazes me that she is still so present, so grateful, so loving.

Afterwards, we went back to her room, I did her nails; we played card games and laughed. At one point, after I had put lotion on her legs, she held my hands and said, thank you for making me feel so good. I sat up on her bed with her. Do you know I am your granddaughter? You are??!! She said. Yes, I said. Your oldest granddaughter. Your daughter Grace is my mother. NO! she exclaimed dramatically as she laughed, then stopped for a second before adding, Really?! Yes, I said smiling. Don’t you have a sister? she asked. Yes, I said, in fact, she sent me a picture this evening for you – with her daughter. Here, I said showing her, your grand-daughter and great-grand-daughter. Oh good! she said smiling big.

Then, I showed her some pictures of her with her daughter, my mother…she looked so deeply before saying, she looks so young. Yes, you too, I said. She laughed happily. And, I showed her pictures of her and John and the three of us…We sat so close, leaning into each other, looking at the pictures on my phone, smiling big, enjoying these sweet moments, willing the mind to remember if only for a second.

When it was time for bed, we tucked her in and took our turns giving good-night hugs and kisses. She said she would sleep well tonight because of the day with us. Sweet dreams, I said. Of course I will now, she said.

How to feel anything but grateful in this moment? Impossible really

Perfect

The picture on the left was taken May 2nd 2013 and the other two were taken today, May 2nd 2017. In some ways, little has changed; in other ways, much has changed. She still loves to sit outside, still laughs easily. Today, John, Bachan and I had a little picnic outside the building of the nursing home where my grandmother lives. I had brought her miso soup with rice and tea, some japanese style root veges too. John and she were waiting outside by the road for me to come. There was a parking spot right in front of them, as if they had been saving it for me. I turned off the car and got out immediately, before getting my phone or wallet or bags, and went directly to her. She nodded as I walked towards her and waited until I got very close to reach for me and say, “we have been waiting for you!” and “thank you so much for coming!” We hug a long hug and I kiss her face. Our sweet ritual. John and I hug too and he goes to get the bags. She says, “your husband is a good man.” I agree. It doesn’t matter that we aren’t married – we might as well be. The three of us sit outside sharing soup and tea, just enjoying each other’s company. It doesn’t matter that we have set up our little picnic basically on the sidewalk -we could have been anywhere; As my grandma says, “when we are together, everything is perfect!”

All Good

bachan and cardsWhen I walked into my grandmother’s room this evening, she didn’t know exactly who I was but she knew that we were friends and said, you want to go somewhere? And I said, yes let’s go. She said, should I bring my purse? No, I said. We don’t need your purse, we won’t go far. Okay, she said. So we walked around the hall as if for the first time and came back as if gone much longer than we had been.

I’m hungry, she said. We have a snack here for you – how about some cut up watermelon and tea? That sounds good, she said. The nurse offered a few graham crackers as well. You have some of that cracker, my grandmother said. I offered my grandmother’s roommate Anna Mae a cracker too which she accepted and we all sat quietly for a moment, eating slow. My grandmother was the only one speaking, as she would say in Japanese between bites, oh this is so good. Have you had plain graham crackers or cold, old-ish, diced watermelon lately? I personally wouldn’t go over board with it being so so good. But, if you don’t get much in the way of treats, or you don’t expect much or if you live grateful for what you get rather than wishing for something else then, yes, it is all so good. Living life this way is a joy. No energy is spent feeling sorry for your self or wishing others or life was different.

My grandmother has seen a lot in her 97 years but her mind doesn’t hold onto much of it – good or bad. She just goes with what is. What she does remember, she remembers as good. Ask her about her children – they are good people. Her husband? A good man. I asked her about her work this evening. I was a farmer. Did you like it? Yes, of course! Why? I asked. Because I got to work hard, she said enthusiastically. What was the best part? On Sundays, they would come and pick up the produce that we picked; that was good, she said smiling. What did you do at night? We slept! she said joyfully.

Hard not to look at things differently or more positively when talking with her. I am so blessed that she can still talk. She reminds me to be grateful, to say thank you, to be happy. This evening, I was with her just about 4 hours and she must have said thank you to me at least 10 times; each time as if she had not said it before and each time felt like medicine for my heart.

When I put her to bed and was reaching over her to fix her pillow, she grabbed onto my neck and pulled her body up to mine so she could give me a strong hug. 97 years old and can barely walk these days but finds the strength to thank me with a power hug! I tell her, that I am thankful for her. I am who I am because of her – my strength, my kindness, my work ethic and character comes from her. She is always with me. Always will be.

Step by Step

This picture was taken on January 11th, 2013 – 4 years ago. bachan-at-hidden-villa-in-2013What a fun day this was. So simple and sweet. Just the three of us walking together at Hidden Villa – a crisp cold day. My grandmother held John’s hand almost the entire time (while I ran around taking pictures and trying to talk with the animals lol). She hardly got tired and was smiling the whole time. We walked all over the farm. Now she has trouble walking down the hall. I’ve been with her every other day or at least every two days for the last three weeks – she had another UTI. I asked for her to be tested based on a hunch – thankfully, the nurse listened to me. I was right, she did have an infection and was put on antibiotics for 10 days. She’s been on antibiotics at least 3 times in less than 3 years at this nursing home. They make her so very tired and I always think, this is it, but she’s like the energizer bunny. Usually she comes back to her normal 96 year old dementia self after 3-4 weeks. But she has shifted over the last 6 months and is much weaker than in the past. She finished this round of meds a few days ago so I am waiting to see how she does. I brought her green tea and miso soup the last two visits, trying to get her to drink more fluids. Yesterday evening, when I gave her the soup and tea, she kept asking where the rice was. I didn’t bring rice since she’d already eaten (she’s diabetic and rice is high in carbs so not good at night really). In fact, earlier my aunt had brought her a full home-cooked meal which she ate but had forgotten. She did remember though that (for her) miso soup should always have rice along side LOL. Her wanting to eat and being hungry is a sure sign she is getting better. I hope. Still, I have to come to terms with the fact that we will not walk again like we did at Hidden Villa. Not even across the street and around the church. She’s actually starting to get scared a bit when we walk, uncertain of her steps. We hold hands on one side and on the other, she holds onto the bar on the wall. If John is with us, she holds his hands too. We walk together and we take our time, step by step. Now we include sitting breaks on our walk with little massages. She likes this. We talk briefly to folks as we pass. She still takes time to say hello or shake a hand along the way, even if she feels tired. We do what we can. Enjoy the moments that we have, every breath we make, every step we take

Heart knows

This evening at the nursing home, my grandmother and I went for a walk down the hall, as we do. I heard sobbing coming from an area where I don’t usually hear sobbing. The truth is for all of my positive stories, it is not exactly a happy place. “Happy” is a choice. It is a luxury I have and it is part of my grandmother’s make up but for others, especially for those who rarely if ever get visitors, it is a sad and lonely place.

Around the corner, in the hall, on a wheel chair with a little portable table in front of her sits a 50 something year old woman. I do not know her story. I just know that when I have come to visit, she is usually here, sitting quiet, eyes vacant. Every time I see her, I say hello to her silence. Sometimes her eyes will flicker but only on rare occasion. Holding hands, my grandmother and I approach the woman – no one pays us any mind. I put my hand on her shoulder and asked if she was okay. I do not expect an answer; I only want her to know she is not alone. She stopped and says softly, I just felt like crying. I act as if her talking to me is normal. Oh, I say, I’m glad you let yourself cry if you need to – I always feel better after a good cry. Still holding my grandmother, I reached around her and gave her a gentle squeeze. Some people don’t like to be touched and I didn’t want to invade her space that way so I didn’t linger. She leaned into me, put her head towards me and started crying again. I reached back around since it seemed okay. Her crying turned into a wail of “Mooooommmmmaaaa…Mommmaaaaa!!!” She pressed into me as I held on. Do you miss your mother? I asked simply. Yes, she said, quieting down. I like to think our loved ones are watching over us, what do you think? Yes, she said. Perhaps she is with you, living in your heart? She was quiet and still then. If you hold your heart, I bet you can feel her, what do you think? Slowly, she put her hand on her heart and said, Yes. I gave her shoulder a squeeze. We will stop by again, I said. Okay, she said and turned back inside where she usually lives.

We walk on, my grandmother oblivious to what just happened. We see Bill and Maria ahead. Bill is the one who, amongst other things, threatened a nurse with a knife. He doesn’t remember any of this now. Maria, an elder woman originally from Russia and another permanent resident here, who speaks also English, Spanish and French but who doesn’t always remember her name, is standing next to Bill helping him with something. They are next to the nurse’s station where a young nurse sits looking confused, uncertain as to what to do. Bill and Maria are distraught and asking for help. His bag! Maria says to me as my grandmother and I walk up. His urine bag had slipped behind his wheel. I ask Maria to hold my grandmother’s hand. She understands and holds onto my grandmother. I fix the bag and thank Maria for taking care of my grandmother. Only then does the nurse get up. Somehow she missed the whole thing from 2 feet away. Sometimes it is hard to tell what is a real cry for help and what is not.

Maria goes back to her game of solitaire. She had been sitting next to the nurse when Bill asked for help. My grandmother pulls me towards her so that she can watch. She loves the game but we haven’t play for a while. She watches and says to Maria something about the 4. Don’t you have to move the 4? Maria pats her hand. I say, this game has so many different ways to play it. Yes, says Maria. My grandmother keeps staring at the cards. She waits as Maria moves a few more cards ignoring the 4. Don’t you have to move the 4? She asks again. Maria smiles but ignores her. We wait and watch. My grandmother repeats her question. Maria hears her this time. Yes, she says and moves the 4 to under the 5. Thank you! She smiles large. She pats my grandmother’s hand and they laugh. We say good-bye and head back to my grandmother’s room.

We stop by our friend who had been crying. Are you feeling better? I ask. Yes, she says. On her little table is a little snow globe. What is this? my grandmother asks leaning in. I think it is a snow globe, I say. Can I pick it up? Yes, she says. I shake it to show the snow. How pretty! my grandmother says. It sparkles! The woman nods and smiles. I give her shoulder a gentle squeeze. We continue on.

I don’t know where my room is, my grandmother says worriedly but, as we turn the corner, she smiles. There it is, she shouts. There is your roommate, Mrs Owen. She’s my roommate? Hello! she shouts. Did you miss us, Anna Mae? I ask. Yes! she says loudly as she reaches out her one hand that works. My grandmother pulls me towards her and then, grabs Mrs. Owen’s hand with her two little ones. Are you okay? Yes, Anna Mae says with a smile. And then my grandmother lets go and we go to her side of the room. She sits in her wheel chair as if we have been there the whole evening. I get out her cards for a few rounds of solitaire. Anna Mae watches curiously while we play- I am the dealer who likes to make jokes. My grandma puts up with me; Anna Mae smiles and nods as if to say, yes you are funny but don’t quit your day job. Bachan watches the cards intently. You’d think there was money on the game. She “wins” each round and every time she wins, we raise our arms in the air then clasp hands as we yell, BONSAI! and laugh. Mrs. Owen laughs too. Not sure how this ritual got started but it doesn’t matter. It isn’t about logic or memory. All here is forgotten anyway. Well, something remembers. I do. And, the heart does; it holds onto what their minds cannot.

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