What's really worthwhile

The name of this blog came about because as a stay-at-home-mom I was craving outside stimulation and connections. I found myself spending an inordinate amount of time on celebrity gossip websites: they were titillating, engaging, and I was also living a little vicariously through all those fucked up "tartlets". It was like I was 23 all over again.

Eventually, I felt ashamed of the amount of effort I put into sleuthing out the latest dirt on so-and-so celebrity. If I could put that much effort into finding out how much blow Lindsay Lohan was doing, surely I could put something of more substance out there.

That was how "This Is Worthwhile" was born.

What I find truly worthwhile are those things that make the heart stronger, the mind sharper, and, in general, the world a better place.

This past weekend was particularly "worthwhile."

I went to visit my grandmother, my dad's mother. And despite my horribly complicated and painful relationship with my father, I have always been close to her. When I was little I thought Grandma Berber was dazzling, cosmopolitan, cultured and articulate. She had fine china, wore stilettos, and remembered every word of French she learned in high school. Not only did she have gorgeous things, but she was also talented and looked up to; she had friends for 60 years, could whip up a gourmet meal on a moment's notice, and had a social calendar that would make a debutante jealous.

My father moved in with her in 2005, ostensibly to take care of her, but then he got deathly ill. It was a terrible pair. She was no longer willing to cook for herself and couldn't remember to take her pills. She rarely saw her friends and she was extremely forgetful, more so than usual. He was in chemo treatments and trying to keep it a secret. Her declining health was no where on his radar. He was struggling to survive himself. It was the blind leading the blind.

When my uncle died, her oldest, in March of 2006 she really broke from reality. She was drinking a bottle of wine a night, at least, because she couldn't remember she'd already had a glass. Fast forward to June of '06 and my father is in hospice. It was more than her brain could handle and she quite literally went somewhere else. She left the room, so to speak. She doesn't have Alzheimer's, but an advanced kind of dementia where even her long term memory is affected. She can't remember anything.

After Dad died, it was tasked to my sister and I to get her to her new assisted living residence. My uncle Randy (her only surviving son) and a family friend, Jeffrey, packed her house and moved it while Gabby and I occupied my grandmother. This was the day after my father's memorial service. There's nothing like great timing, right??

After the sedatives we gave her and the movie where she literally fell asleep, Gabby and I took our far-from-lucid grandmother to her new "home," Amethyst Gardens. We were to stay with her that night in the guest suite while Jeffrey and Randy got all of her things settled. She cried and begged us to take her home. She sobbed that she missed Ring and Robbie. She couldn't sleep alone because she was scared and she repeatedly came in to our room to cry. All we could do was hug her and hold her and let her cry and say we were so sorry she lost her babies. She wailed that she missed her sister and husband and mom and dad and baby girl who died at 9 days old. And still, all we could do was hold her tight and gently take her back to bed and tell ourselves it was the right thing to do.

Gabby and I cried together and held each other tight, sad for grandma, sad for us. We should never have had to do this. In a perfect world she would be in a city filled with relatives, not hundreds of miles away in an island oasis. She would have relatives fighting to have her move in with them, not two dead sons and no where to go.  Rooster and I contemplated having her live with us, but we knew we were ill equipped. She needed full-time care and we couldn't provide that. And so I helped dupe her into leaving her home of 30-years only to arrive to a new 2-bedroom apartment in Peoria, AZ, 30 miles from where she expected to be. Far from friends, and not in her real home.

Three years later it's gotten better for her, although also much sadder. She no longer hates being there. She doesn't spit nails when she talks of eating with the other "old" residents and she doesn't tell me she wants to be in her old house again. She is happy. Content. She has a routine... She doesn't even know what year it is.

But it's sadder because she is also failing and we need to get her more help. My uncle, her only son left, is the executor of her estate and I don't know what's going on with that. She needs someone to come and help her bathe twice a week, make sure she has toilet paper, clean sheets, and bathes. Every time I go to see her she smells bad and her nails are too long and her sheets are dirty. It's heartbreaking. This woman prided herself on homemaking, personal looks and bearing, and social status for 60 years and she is living in a dog-track, powerless life; doing the same things over and over, wearing the carpet bare in places, making a dirty spot on her sheets.

And every visit my sister and I get up in arms about the state of her life. We talk to employees and managers, we clean her dishes, throw out junk mail, put laundry away, clean out her fridge, turn on her AC, get her hair cut, washed, and set, get her nails clipped and painted and it's still not enough. I can barely afford the trips I make. But I need to make more.

This last visit was particularly hard, but for totally different reasons than just the fact that she's not the woman she used to be. This time Hawk needed more of me and I couldn't give all my attention to Grandma. He had to be my number one priority. His naps, hunger, etc. were always at the forefront of my mind. Therefore, we didn't even see Grandma until the day after we arrived in Phoenix.

Not only was she not my number one priority, but it's obvious she's no one's priority and it breaks my fucking heart. I'm crying now thinking about her utter vulnerability, her lack of awareness, comprehension, confusion, and power. She is always worried about her purse, "Where's my purse?" she asks 15 times in an hour.

The soft spoken hair stylist told me, "She has a lot of build up" as she began to wash my grandmother's hair. At that very moment Grandma grabbed my hand like a child. Unsure of what exactly was happening to her, but at least sure that I am her granddaughter and that I am safe. I began to cry in the salon, unable to avoid my own reflection in all the mirrors. I'm so sad that no one can make sure she washes her fucking hair. I fought tears for the next hour as we discovered she has terrible cradle cap. I also noticed she has thick, scaly skin around her collar bones, presumably from lack of showering. And I cried some more. There is NOTHING I can do. Later that day she refused to shower, insisting she only showers at 9 pm every night.

We also saw my other 91 year old grandmother while there, too, my grandfather's second wife, Grandma Berber's ex-husband's second wife - you follow me?? She has her faculties, for the most part, although she is going blind. Even seeing the decline in her over the last year was hard. But again, I say, at least she has family nearby.

Today, Grandma Berber didn't even want to go out to lunch. Thank God she was willing to let us take her out yesterday to get her inch long nails taken care of. She said it was her heart. She wasn't up to it. She was tired. We ordered pizza instead and dove head-first into cleaning her apartment some more.

So, what can I do?? I pushed Hawk to his absolute limit this weekend by going there. He slept barely 45 minutes during the day (this from two naps a day, normally). It cost me more money than I can really afford, but of course I have to go to see her and take care of her. So how am I going to make this work for the next trip??

Quite literally, this whole weekend was beyond difficult: flights with an angry, tired toddler, shitty ass passengers, scamming rental car people, rude hotel employees, and ancient, sad, loved ones. It was incredibly difficult, draining, and sad, sad, S A D.

I'm exhausted. And I'm so, so heavy-hearted. And I feel horrible about it. I feel like a bad human being, a bad person, a bad granddaughter. I tried so hard to take good care of her but I feel like a colossal failure. She's completely lost her mind. I don't even know if she knows our names (I take heart in knowing she at least knows we ARE her granddaughters). But she's still alone and 1000 miles away from me. And poor Hawk is whooped beyond all reason, totally devoid of nap time, eating food that riles his eczema because that's all we can get. And I feel like even more shit because I'm mostly afraid of the other aged people who flock to us in the halls of Amethyst Gardens; eager to touch my baby and with "Pig Pen" clouds of aroma about them. There is zero dignity in aging in this manner and so they are as friendly as puppies because they know what's around the next bend. They don't have to expend any energy on airs: they're old and dying and they know it.

I don't know, it just sucks. Getting old and dying sucks and I never in a million years thought I'd be this involved in it at this age. My mother is only 58, after all. But my dad died and I was only 30 and I was confronted with the loss, the paperwork, and the scent of hospice already so why should I be surprised by this?? I guess it's because when my other grandparents died I had nothing to do with it. I didn't make any decisions about their care or even care about their care because there were others there to do it. But my grandmother, really, has no one. And now my sister and I have to go to bat for her to make sure she bathes at least once a freaking week. What the hell is that??

This is exactly why it is so important to me to be near my family as we age. I do not want to have to make long distance decisions about my mother's and step-father's care. I want to be minutes way, not miles and miles away. This is gut-wrenchingly difficult and ridiculous...

My grandmother always told me that she didn't want to be that little old lady that got dragged out of her house to assisted living. She was going to pick a place and move in "when the time was right."

Well, the she missed her chance. By the time she needed assistance she had senior-onset alcoholism and dementia and she couldn't make a decision to save her life. And so she got tricked by two girls, 55 years her junior, to go to lunch and catch a flick and whoops! you don't live here anymore, Grandma! here's your new apartment! I only thank God for the fact that she's never blamed us; she never could remember how she ended up at Amethyst Gardens.

She told us today that she is happy and content. After three years of hating it there she's finally forgotten about anything else and she's let go of any memories of independence. She thinks her dead sister visited her yesterday. She thinks her dead son is teaching music at the local college. She thinks her dead husband has a car dealership. Somehow, by the grace that is, she really and truly thinks her life is worthwhile. And I'd like to think so, too.

And in the end, no matter how painful or difficult, this is worthwhile:

PS: I miss Rooster and want him here to hold me close and tell me everything is going to be fucking ok because it sure as hell doesn't feel like it...


  1. Jessica, you write clearly and beautifully about this. It must be terribly difficult to see someone you love in that state. :-( But I agree whole-heartedly with your conclusion, all you have to do is look at Hollis's face and watch him look at his grandma to know that it is all worth it. Love you, chica.

  2. Everything is going to be fucking okay, because you're amazing. I just need a bit of a rain check on that hug. It's coming!!!

  3. This is heartbreaking.. All you can do is your best and that's all anyone can ask from you. Maybe it's time to move her to a full-service home? That's what my mother&her siblings are debating with my grandmother (who's got alzheimers). At least she'll be taken care of and she'll be able to socialize with the other residents. Fairenough, it's not independent living, but my gran's no longer able to live independently. She thinks she's 5 years old. So she'll be treated as such.


  4. Oh Jessica, I'm so sorry. This is a beautiful post, excellent writing, and so true and real. I wish I had something to say that could help. Your grandmother is simply elegant and beautiful, from the pictures I can see. Is there a home she can move into that is closer to you? Or a home that has nurses or helpers that can make she sure she showers, eat, etc.? I've never had to deal with anything like this, so I don't know how I'd deal. But you're so amazing to do all this for her, especially with your young child with you. And it is just wonderful - and so worthwhile - to see your son and grandmother so close. He must bring her such happiness!

  5. Said a little prayer for you.
    You have a lot on your shoulders, and although it isn't fun - and not fair - you can only do the best you can. I can relate to many of your struggles from my own grandmother - and know there are lots of others out there just like you. Continue to love with all your heart, and know that doing anything is better than nothing (even though you may feel like you are not doing enough). Keep your chin up. ~Hugs~

  6. Thanks for the support everyone. To answer some questions, I'm going to talk to my uncle today and see if we can get someone to come twice a week to make sure she showers, gets her hair washed, and nails trimmed, and maybe tidy her house, make sure bath mats get washed, etc. Who knows if there's money in her estate to do that. If not, my sister and I will look into hiring someone ourselves.

    The facility where she's at currently doesn't have any "higher" level of care, unfortunately. I'm not sure why my uncle picked that place in particular. They only provide food, make sure she takes her pills, and are available in cases of emergency. They also make sure she's safe and provide interaction, so it's definitely better than if she were at home alone.

    It's so hard, this aging thing. I wish it were different, for sure.

    Thanks again for the support :)

  7. I found your blog thru the comments of today's SITS blog, and WOW. I'm so glad that I did. What a heartbreaking, but still truly inspirational post about you and your grandmother. Those photos speak a thousand words. Your love for her is so utterly apparent and THAT is what I find so inspiring.

    Good luck in continuing to navigate through her care. I will say a little prayer for your strength! And thank you for sharing such a touching and personal story. I will absolutely be back...

  8. I found your blog two days ago, I don't even know how, I googled Tara from Biggest loser, It linked to another blog and then I found you. I am hooked to your thoughts! This post hit close to home. I found myself in your situation when I was in college, it was hard to do and hard not to want to do more. The pictures are lovely. Your grandmother is lucky to have you and it IS worthwhile. I'm in San Antonio, just became a SAHM, from a layoff. Boo!, but I have a new boss in my 5 month old. I hope you don't mind if pop in.

  9. Karla, you're totally welcome!! Please, stop by all you like. I hope I write things that resonate with you :)

  10. Wow, you are quite an amazing person! :)