Tuesday, December 9, 2008


For the last few years I have been watching my grandma deteriorate. She went from being a fairly independent woman who cooked, cleaned, drove, exercised, and could carry on a conversation to a vacant shell of a person. That may sound harsh, and maybe it is, but it’s the truth. My grandma is still physically here – but she’s not my grandma anymore.

I’ve always had a good relationship with my grandma. When I was younger I used to spend the night at her house once a week and she would let me watch Nick at Night and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and she taught me how to knit (although I forgot and had to re-learn years later). When I was in Middle School she moved in with our family into a Mother-in-Law apartment and I used to visit with her just about every night. I’d watch ER with her and tell her about my day and we’d just talk. It was fun and I loved it.

Two years ago she moved in with my aunt because she couldn’t drive anymore and getting to and from doctor’s appointments had become a huge burden. After a year of living with my aunt, everyone decided it would be best for my grandma to move into an assisted living facility. She had her own kitchen area and bedroom and whatnot, but there was a cafeteria and someone checked on her routinely to make sure she had her meds and helped with showering and getting in and out of bed. Eventually it got to be too much work for the facility and so now she is in a group home where she still has some freedom, but not much due to her limited mobility. The hard thing is that my grandma isn’t that old. My grandma on my mother’s side is older than my dad’s mom but she is much more mobile and independent. She still drives, lives alone, and travels very frequently.

As long as I can remember my grandma (my dad’s mom) has been the one person in the family who has taken vitamins regularly and shopped at the health food store and exercised on a daily basis. She is the only person in my entire family who has done that, but ironically she’s the only person who has had cancer and has had to have hip replacement surgeries and knee surgeries and all kinds of other random stuff. Now, I don’t know exactly what my grandma was like in her younger days, but I do know that she used to be a nurse and from the stories I’ve heard, she doesn’t sound like the kind of person who put her body through a whole lot. She did smoke in the 60’s (like everyone did) but quit once they realized how bad it was for you. I’m sure she wasn’t always so careful about her health, but I seriously doubt she was ever careless.

Watching my grandma go through this period of her life has been hard. It’s difficult to see her so upset by her physical inabilities and restrictions. It’s painful to help her get around and do the normal things that I take for granted every day. I know it’s a part of aging and the life process, but it seems unfair that someone who has worked so hard to be healthy has ended up this way. It makes me wonder what the point of trying to be healthy is.

Last February I made a conscious decision to try and eat healthier and make better choices. I started exercising and looking at food labels – something I’ve never done consistently before. I didn’t make a big deal out of it and I only told a few people. I just wanted to see if it would really make a difference in how I felt and if my energy level would increase (like everyone says it does) or if I would even notice a difference. Since I already had knee and back problems I figured with my grandma’s history, it couldn’t hurt to try and improve my lifestyle. It didn’t take long before I noticed that my clothes began to fit me differently and people I hadn’t seen in awhile began to ask if I’d lost weight.

Now, almost 10 months later, I can see a physical difference in myself, but I don’t know if there has been an emotional or mental change. I still hate exercising as much as I did before, but I do it because I know it’s good for me and I still crave certain foods that I shouldn’t eat, but I don’t forbid myself from anything. My idea of a perfect day is still spending the whole day in bed sleeping in and watching movies and eating my favorite foods. I haven’t changed that much – or at least I didn’t think that I had until last night and this morning.

Some friends took me out for dessert last night to the Melting Pot for my birthday. We had a great adventure and laughed a lot. They had never been to the restaurant before so we opted to get two small chocolate pots in order to try two different kinds of dessert. The waiter brought our chocolate and our two large dishes of stuff (fruit, brownies, cheesecake, marshmallows, graham crackers, pound cake, etc.) to dip in the chocolate. He also brought us an extra piece of cheesecake since it was my birthday. Basically we had A LOT of sugary goodness to consume and I definitely enjoyed every gluttonous bite that I ate – until I had had one bite too many.

I woke up this morning on such a sugar high it wasn’t even funny. I still loved every minute of last night and wouldn’t change a thing (except maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to wait an hour to be seated – but that’s a whole other unrelated issue). What I’ve realized that maybe I have changed more than I’d thought since last February. My body has adjusted to my new lifestyle and I didn’t even notice. I don’t think that going out and eating like I used to is the worst thing in the world to do, but only if I only do it every once in a while. It’s funny that it took a moment like last night for me to be able to recognize this change. It’s strange how such a gradual change isn’t really noticed and it doesn’t seem like it was that hard to do now that I look back. I guess I’m learning that I can form good habits and it’ll help keep me in line or I can form bad habits and my body will allow me to perpetuate my vicious cycle.

Ultimately it comes down to me and I have to decide how I want my body to function. I can’t control what will happen to me in the future. It’s possible that I will end up just like my grandma whether I try to prevent it or not, but I think I’d rather try to create as many good habits as I can now and give myself a fighting chance instead of waiting until it’s too late. I won’t stress about being super healthy but I also won’t ignore it. I think I’ve found the balance that is right for me and I’m thankful and amazed to see how far I’ve come in less than a year.

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