Saturday, September 5, 2009

My grandma's social cognition and pillow theft

August 7 2009
12:53 London time

In bed in a small hot room in Feltham.
My grandmother in a bed a foot from me. She has three pillows; I have one, just so you know.
"I sure wish I had a pillow for my swollen feet" she said not too long ago.
"Grandma, you have two under your head. Do you want me to move one?"
"Well, I like sleeping with two pillows under my head" she said.
I thought if she has a stroke because she didn't have enough elevation in her feet, it will be my fault...

I've had a Bulmers, danced with my cousins while singing "Sweet Caroline" and "Release Me." There's a lot I want to comment about, about past and present, about history of a place and a person and a family, but to make it fit into this blog, I'll talk about language and disability a little bit, specifically, the language of the elderly, or more specifically, the language of the elderly British woman who emigrated to America 64 years ago at the age of 22 who has very sweetly managed to get me to convince her that I don't need my pillow. Of course I do.

That lady is now whispering to herself. I think it's the Ambien, but it's sort of creepy. She once beat the holy hell out of me in her sleep when we had to share a bed on vacation in 1994. Mom ended up paying us to share a bed with her. It started out as $10 a pop and was up to $50 at the end of that long vacation. I still slept on the floor.

Dude, her sleep voice is gravelly and lispy without her teeth. I'm a bit freaked out. She sounds like a demon. If this keeps up, I might go next door to my mom to see if she will continue her subsidies for grandma-induced sleep trauma.

My grandmother has a specific way of social cognition that is almost the opposite of Asperger's. She has always had a composite quality to her, as if she is finding the social role she is expected to play and is playing it. Which can be frustrating and unfortunately makes us doubt her sincerity. Which isn't fair at all I know she's sincere, even when she's acting. The more I know of her history, the more I understand that she was abused by her father, whom she loved, and that she lived through terrible traumas of war, her sister's death, and sepratation from all she loved all at once, I understand her mode of social thinking, of being so eager to please that she is hard to please. Like how she won't ask for the pillow but make it very obvious that she wants it in such a way that I end up begging her to take it. Maddening at times. But damn funny.

When awake, when unsure of herself, when bored, or when wanting to assert that she is important and not to be left out of plans, she has slipped more into the mode that my kids use. She asks where we are going over and over, what we are doing next, what other people are doing, things like that, exactly like my kids in this post. She pretends that things we've discussed for days have not been discussed with her and gets insulted.
Grandma:"What's the plan tonight?"
Mom:"You're spending the night with Janet tonight."
Grandma: "I AM? No one tells me anything."
Mom: "Oh mom, you packed the bag!"
Whether she's pretending, forgot, or just needs that reassurance is hard tell. Then, minutes later, she is insulted when we give her directions. She's senile at one moment and totally competent the next.

It's worse at night, after her ambien. She asks over and over what my mom is doing, even though I'm in the same room with her and not my mom, so I obviously don't know what mom is doing. She asks about over and over about plans too. I think the ambien confuses her, but I also think she's trying to make conversation with her granddaughter, who is tired and really does not want to answer those questions. That's the social over-awareness, almost a paranoia that she's always had, but it is getting worse as she's getting older and is aware now that she needs taking care of.

It's hard to grapple with the fact that my grandma is now someone to make allowances for. She always had some of these qualities about her, but it's distressing now to see her cognition decline. She's not had any major medical trauma, but repeated TIA's, mini-strokes, that have left her slghtly more confused with each attack. She knows it. "Senile, that's what your grandma is," she's said more than once. She's not senile. She has less consideration for her listeners, wants to tell her story and dominate the conversation, and experiences more momentary aphasia than she did before. Those are all normal patterns of language in someone who is 87, but it's my grandma. I don't want her to lose her language, her cognition, her stories. Not yet. I don't want strangers to see her struggle for words, to see her ask her millionth question, and think "that poor old lady." Yet, here in England, among her family, where she's known and loved, it's great to relax a little and let her be. Everyone understands her here and if she's more demanding than she used to be, that's okay. She's 87 years old, their sister who married that handsome, gentle, GI from Missouri and followed him there. She's allowed her quirks. And as I lay here, relieved that her evil-ambien sleep mumbling has dropped off into snores, I wish could rewind and capture all of her stories before they are gone. I know that too soon, I will give anything to have her ask me endless annoying questions again.

And I think that's probably worth the pillow. Maybe.