Sometime in the wee small hours of Thursday morning, my 96-year-old Grandma fell and broke her right hip and femur in three different places. She had surgery to repair the damage Thursday afternoon. Now she’s got a shiny new titanium rod holding her femur together. Her doctors expect her to recover, but given her age and overall frailty, they’re recommending she move into a nursing home after she’s released because she’ll need more care and attention than the owners of her retirement community can provide.
This all sounds like the sad, typical story of so many seniors until you meet my Grandma. On Thursday, the doctors told us it would take a few days for the anesthetic to wear off, and until then she would be suffering from its side effect: aggressive, angry and violent behavior. For example, when she woke up Friday morning she slugged her physical therapist. Twice. He was there to check her incisions. She didn’t want him to raise her hospital gown and expose her bare hip. “Not to worry”, the doctors said. “She’ll be back to normal soon.” But we knew better.
See, Grandma’s always been mean. Maybe she learned it from her parents, German farmers from the area around Odessa on the Black Sea who settled in North Dakota. Family lore has it one day my Great-Grandfather Adam was pumping drinking water from the well at the kitchen sink. He wanted it cold, so he let the warmer water run into the slop bucket.
My Great-Grandmother Sophia walked up to her husband and punched him out for wasting the farm’s precious water. Whatever the source, by the time my Grandmother married my Grandfather she was hell on wheels. Her incessant nagging drove him to drink. Despite being an alcoholic, Grandpa was a gentle man who died when I was ten. Before that, I remember him living with us for extended periods of time just to get away from her.
She would call our house constantly during these times, and when Grandpa wouldn’t come to the phone she would call my father’s workplace, ask for his boss, and tell him what a horrible son-in-law my father was for keeping her husband from her. She was the type of mother who always kept her children fighting amongst themselves so they would come to her with their problems. As they got older some of them got wise and, one at a time, refused to be manipulated. When this happened she would tell that particular child she was changing her will and writing him or her out of it.
I never saw any of this as a small child. Petted and fussed over, I was her youngest grandchild and her favorite. Like my cousins, I only became aware of our Grandma’s horrible, manipulative behavior as I matured. Each of us have stood up to her for our parents’ sake. In the past two decades she and I have had our battles over her actions, but now that she’s in the hospital for probably the final time in her long, bitter life I’ve visited her every evening for the last few days. Last night as I was leaving, I kissed her and said, “You get a good night’s sleep, okay?”
“You know what?” she replied. “I like you.”