Monday, June 11

Healing Green Balloon

Home again briefly for Asia's graduation, Robin wanted to see her Granny and Grandpa before returning to Seattle. The grandparents are both in advanced stages of Alzheimer's and Dementia. They live in a care home that is very nice, one of many beautiful family homes in a Mesa residential area. You would never know that inside one of the high curb-appeal models live 5 or 6 elderly people who cannot care for themselves.

A heaviness lingers in the air when she voices her desire to "stop by" and see the folks. Visits are - well, gloomy. They do not recognize family more often than not. Their vacant stares and withered, shell-like selves are painfully at odds with the active, vibrant lives they used to share. Granny read a lot of murder mysteries as a hobby over the years, and the little she manages to form into words usually sounds like a bizarre, dis-jointed excerpt from one of those cloak and dagger plots. It can be frightening. At Christmas time Asia bent down to give her a kiss and Granny grabbed her hair on both sides of her face and threatened her fiercely, hissing through clenched teeth. It took a few minutes for one of the staff to extract Asia from the older woman's claw-like grasp.

The last time we visited Asia was so shocked by Grandpa's deteriorated condition that she hid in a bathroom for half an hour, sobbing. This time, the girls proposed waiting in the car while Robin went in to see the parents. Instead, we all dutifully abandoned the car and went inside.

They were seated side by side at the kitchen table having just finished a late lunch...or having attempted to eat. They looked at us with blank confusion and even fear. It was like a vacuum of emotion, sucking into their pale, empty eyes. Then her son stepped into view. His mother gasped as a sudden, bright recognition lit her face with an intense brilliance. Raising two quaking little hands she exclaimed, "Oh! There's my little guy!"

Once we were all seated together in the family room, there was nothing to say. Grandpa needed an occasional propping up to keep him from sliding off the leather couch or tipping over on his side. He was non-responsive. Granny seemed happy and attempted to speak to us, but very little was coherent. Asia began to cry again. Our visit was looking pretty doomed, as expected.

Then an ordinary 11" balloon appeared. The staff said the folks really enjoy batting at a balloon. We didn't know what to think of this. It seemed almost insulting. We were reluctant to do anything with the balloon; the folks did not seem to notice it - until it drifted into their range....

Lightening quick Granny's tiny, stick arm shot out and batted the balloon with surgical precision directly into Rachel's face. We were stunned! Another gentle set of the balloon produced an even more bullet spike from our fragile, 80 lb. Granny. She didn't even appear to watch the balloon or anticipate its approach in the slightest; but once it drifted into range she assaulted it with a viper-like strike. Not one of her hits went wild, either, which was not something we could say for ourselves. Grandpa likewise seemed oblivious to the commotion, that is, until the balloon appeared directly in front of him. He did not have the same reaction speed as Granny, but the effort was a full-body response; he did the electric worm trying to bat the balloon, jerking a knee or popping out his chest, and kicking at it with surprising strength. We were amazed. It was hilarious. It was fun. It was finally something we could do to really interact with them. For two little people who are too weak to open an envelope or grasp a spoon, they were absolutely tireless in executing killer shots with that balloon.

It was hard to leave.

1 comment:

Bandanamom said...

This is fascinating - what do you think it is? Is it a reflex? Why would their reflexes improve while they are in this mental state? Very interesting. And nice.