One Last Grandma Post

It has been nearly a year since I have written a blog post, and to be honest I had forgot about my poor old blog for the most part and haven’t even glanced at it in months.

However, when my grandma past away just over two weeks ago my thoughts turned to it again. I had forgotten just how much I had written about her, but of the spattering of posts I have written over the past few years, almost all of them have been about her. As I read them over I was reminded of many of the moments I was privileged to have shared with her. I was also struck by one final grandma related post I felt it was important to write, because for me the one thing that made my three years of care-giving all circle back around at the end was grandma’s socks.

One of the first days after grandma moved in I looked at her feet for the first time. My grandma had always worn shoes or socks and I don’t think I had ever laid eyes on her bare feet until that day. I was shocked, feet of someone in their mid-eighties were very different than the feet I was used to looking at. I had never been repulsed by feet the way some people seem to be, but these feet were not something I wanted to be looking at.

However, as with many other aspects of care-giving, within days I had grown used to something that I had previously been uncomfortable with and soon taking care of her feet and her socks became part of my routine. She always wore socks during the day, but never liked wearing socks at night, so part of the bedtime ritual became taking her socks off.

Originally she took her socks off herself, and woke me up in the middle of the night once asking me to help her put them on, but over time she lost this ability, and I began doing it for her. I even developed a character named ‘Sock Girl’ that would fly around her room and for one of my birthdays Sock Girl acquired a cape. It was ridiculous and silly, and she would mockingly yell at me as I flew around the room, telling me to, “be still!”

She had her favorite socks, such as her yellow grippers that she got from one of her hospital visits. Her favorite were multi-colored eeyore socks. We would let her wear them (over a pair of white socks) for a couple of days in a row and at night they would have to be laid out on her dresser so that she would know where they were. It was never easy to clean them, we would try to wash them as soon as she went to bed so that they were ready by morning, but even then she would wake up at night and wonder where they were.

After she went to the nursing home her socks were always in a state of dishevelment. They were off when she was up during the day, on at night, half falling off, and she was past the point of being aware of of who I was, much less the state of her socks.

When she went to the hospital for the final time they put gripper socks on feet, apparently deciding she was a ‘fall risk’ even though by then she was never going to wake up again, much less stand up and walk.

Then hospice came. Hospice was a god send. The nurses cared for us as much as they did for my grandma those last few days. As I stood at her bedside a few hours before she died I lifted up the blanket covering her. From a medical perspective I was looking for all those end of life signs that were making themselves more obvious by the minute, but I also saw something else. She didn’t have socks on. Although in many ways her feet must have looked terrible, my only memory is that she wasn’t wearing socks. She was laying in bed for the last time and her feet were just how she always wanted them.

Purple People Eaters

Grandma loves musical toys, the stranger the better. The current winner of her affections is her Purple People Eater, which is bizarre and weird and hilarious, because you haven’t really experienced life if you haven’t watched an 89 year old jam out to that song. The other morning she was really crabby (why does she have to get out of bed? She doesn’t have a job?). Dancing with the Purple People Eater was the only thing that improved her mood.

A few days ago we were watching TV together, me reading Mansfield Park while narrating an episode of Leave it to Beaver I have seen a hundred times, her coming in and out of watching it and simply staring into space. Then she turned to me with an excited look on her face and told me she had just watched a show about how to make Purple People Eaters.

I hadn’t seen this show, as far as I was knew Leave it to Beaver was still playing on the TV. However, I also think that my grandma had seen this show about making Purple People Eaters. To her it was as real as the show I was fairly confident I was watching. Why should I disagree? Our realities are all a little different from one another. We will always remember things a little differently and have slightly different perspectives. Why should this be any different?

Grandma thinks I live in Jupiter and increasingly refers to me as “Rebecca of Sunny Brooke Farm” and asks me if I have gotten all the farm work done. I often come home from work and tell her stories about milking cows and chasing goats. Its unclear how much of the stories we tell each other are fiction for her and how much are reality. Sometimes she laughs at my stories and says, “We tell each other lots of jokes.” Other times she thanks me for being such a hard worker. Somethings are reality for both of us, I do actually have a sign on my bedroom door that says Jupiter. Other things like me milking the cows every morning are more questionable.

I don’t mind all of this at all, its actually really fun, its how we connect and bridge the two separate worlds our minds live in. And as long as we are having fun, who cares which reality we are inhabiting. wpid-imag5822_1.jpg

How to Eat Tic Tacs, According to Grandma

Tic Tacs are important. They make your mouth feel good. The following is how to eat tic tacs, according to my grandma.

You should only eat white tic tacs, others are far to mysterious.


You never know when you might need tic tacs, so make sure you have several containers strategically placed throughout the house, especially by your chair and bed. If you need several in the middle of the night, it is best to go ahead and store a container underneath your pillow.

If you run low your family will get you more. Sometimes they even get you a giant container.

It can take awhile to suck on a tic tac, and you will often get annoyed and tired of it before it disappears completely. If you get tired of it spit it out of your mouth. Just be sure that no one in your family notices you do this, it adds to the general confusion that already comes from living with someone that has dementia. Once you have removed the tic tac from your mouth it is best to dispose of it in an interesting location. For maximum enjoyment throw it on the floor. It can be especially fun to do this continuously throughout the day/middle of the night.

Once the tic tacs are on the floor just leave them their. Someone will discover them when they come home from work or wake you up in the morning, then your favorite son-in-law will vacuum them up.

For further reading, learn How to Eat Milkways



Grandma and Sock Girl

A memory is a strange thing, especially when one of the people that you live with doesn’t really have one anymore.

Many real, tangible things don’t stay in my grandma’s mind anymore. Instead she seems to live partially in a fantasy world, so that’s where I live too. She started calling my bedroom “Jupiter” months ago when I would always joke with her that I was traveling to Jupiter when she asked why I was going into another room. It was the first thing that came into my mind, it made her laugh, and was easier than explaining that I was just going to walk into the kitchen, and that yes we do have a kitchen.

Now she says I live in Jupiter and at night tells me I have to return to Jupiter and that she will see me again in the morning. A whole mythology has developed around it. Most people would see a small room with two windows and a closet. To my grandma, Jupiter is the best place in the whole world to live, it has a giant bed that she could never climb in, its own TV, and tons of dinosaurs. Sometimes Jupiter even has multiple floors and magical things happen there.

The best part about Jupiter is that it is the home of my alter-ego Sock Girl. Born from my grandma’s interest in Jupiter and the nightly ritual of me taking off her socks before she gets in bed. Sock girl began magically appearing every night to take off her socks. Taking off grandma’s socks was actually her favorite thing to do.

Then one day Sock Girl found a cape, which gave her extra powers, including the ability to fly. Now with the ability to fly and to come out even when she was not required to remove socks, Sock Girl gained power and popularity, even though her subjects occasionally wished she would stop flying around the house in circles. She even began appearing in unusual places, like museums.

My grandma doesn’t know that we have a kitchen or where the bathroom is, but she remembers Sock Girl. So now I fly around the house dressed as Sock Girl and tell stories about Jupiter all the time. This is the way to connect with grandma, and make caregiving a bit more fun, even when Sock Girl is told to “be still.”

I teach people about skulls, mummies, and dinosaurs and I fly around in a cape.

Grandma and Sock Girl

Grandma and Sock Girl

The magical cape

The magical cape

You never know where Sock Girl could appear

You never know where Sock Girl could appear

Hello Blog

Oh blog, I am so sorry I have neglected you, I have thought of you often, but just haven’t gotten around to hanging out with you much lately. I have so many things I would like to tell you and thoughts to share, but the time just never seem to make itself available.

I get up early to wake-up a little old ladies feet and sit with her while she eats her breakfast and then get her ready for her early morning episodes of Leave it to Beaver. Then off I go on the train to work, where between the overnights, programming, moving carts and taking care of the large number of animal skulls in my work space, I tend to keep pretty busy.

Then its home, and dinner, and convincing grandma that yes she does need to go to the bathroom, and yes if she runs away to live somewhere else that place will ALSO have a bathroom. Then its watching some more TV with grandma or running errands and then its bedtime and time for me to take grandma’s socks off. After she is all tucked away for the night is usually when I think “today’s the day I’ll post something on the old blog.” However, that’s normally the point where I realize that I am to tired to think and spend 5-10 minutes trying to decide whether to fall asleep in front of The Office or Parks and Rec and then its time to get up and start it all again.

The thing is, I love all of this, even when I’ve seen the same episode of Monk for the 100th time (literally). I’m where I’m supposed to be and doing what I am supposed to be doing, even if what I am doing right now is watching Sweet Home Alabama for the second time this week. Grandma does not think Reese Witherspoon is happy, but maybe she’ll change her mind in an hour.

Maybe I will update this again next week, just like maybe one day I will get caught up on Game of Thrones and Mad Men and finishing that Harry Potter re-read I’ve been doing for the last year. There is only so much time in the day, and a lot of that time is spent watching Monk.




Mummies, Museums and Me

When you work as a museum educator, the types of tasks that you find yourself doing can be pretty unusual. Lately I have been working on a project regarding mummification and how to best present the process of mummification in ancient Egypt to the general public. So I have been reading about mummies, watching videos about mummies, and looking at a lot of mummies.

But they are not just mummies, they are also people. In some cases (such as ancient Egyptians) they are a few thousand years old, and their bodies are shriveled by drying and blacked by sap and resin, but once upon a time they were also living and breathing. They experienced love, joy, sadness, life, and death. They have the same muscles and bones that I have, their lives just took place much earlier than mine.

What happens after we die is a question none of us really have an answer to, and what happens to your body after you die can very widely based on a number of factors, such as the wishes of you and your family, religion, and the culture you live in. One of the things that has always intrigued me is that regardless of what your personal wishes may be, once you die you lose any true control over what happens to your physical body.

Your family might ignore your personal wishes, the soil you are buried in may decay your body far faster than you would have thought possible. Even if you take the careful steps that ancient Egyptians took your body might still not last forever and what happens to it may be far stranger than you could have ever imagined, because life moves on and changes in ways that you could have never predicted when you were alive.

I am not here to debate what should happen with human remains and the issues that come with putting human remains on display, but over the past few weeks I have simply been incredibly intrigued by how people who were mummified can travel, impact science, and remain part of the world long after they died.

There is something strangely comforting to me about The Field’s mummy display. While I don’t enjoy the people that barrel through the exhibit taking strange pictures with the mummies, when I go through the exhibit early in the morning and have a chance to sit and talk to them for a moment it feels very peaceful to me.

We know very little about these people, mainly the sex and rough age of each individual, sometimes we know their name. They have traveled farther than they ever could have while they were alive and been seen by more people in death than in life. They have been x-rayed and cat scanned and studied using modern science techniques that they could have never imagined. They have also linked people together, a strange line of people starting with them and their families, the embalmers who prepared their bodies, the grave robbers who pillaged their tombs, the archaeologists who excavated them, the scientists who first x-rayed and examined them, today’s Egyptologists,  the guests who view them every year, and finally to me, the young women who is studying them in 2013, roughly 3,500 years after they died.

A few weeks ago I came across a book of The Field’s mummies when they were first x-rayed in the 1930s. It was like going through an old photo album, I recognized so many of them. It was like looking at pictures of friends. Friends who lived thousands of years ago, and it was incredible. Because we could all use a few friends that are thousands of years old.

Here is a link to the digitized version of the book. Because being able to get on the internet and look at x-rays taken in the 1930s of people that lived thousands of years ago is a pretty special thing.

Grandma and the Cushion

I hear her little voice calling me from the living room. “Rebecca? Rebecca, where are you?” Calling me is the only way she can find me, because once she sits in her chair she isn’t able to figure out where anything else is in our tiny house.

I walk into the living room and sit down next to her. “I have a question to ask you,” she says. She sounds serious, and I hesitate. She has been stressed recently and hospitalized. What is she going to ask me? Is something wrong? “Yeah, grandma?”

She looks down at her chair, “What is this thing?”

My grandma has sat in the same small chair for almost a year. We have additional cushions on the chair to prop her up a bit better, and then the cushions are covered with a red blanket to keep everything together nicely. The cushion she sits on is peeking out from under the red blanket, and this is what she is wondering about.

“Its a cushion. Its something you sit on,” I answer slowly.

“Has it always been there,” she asks, still looking hesitant and nervous.

“Yes. It helps keep you extra comfy,” I say smiling.

“Oh, ok,” she smiles, reassured again. It the end of the discussion and she goes back to her TV show. She is content again, all her concern gone.

It occurs to me why she is always saying that I have such a big brain and know the answer to everything. When something like a cushion is absolutely baffling and then someone else comes in and can suddenly explain it to you, it must seem like the most amazing thing in the world. Just like a child who believes that her parents are all knowing and all powerful.

The truth is I don’t always know the answers to everything. I don’t always know what I am doing with my job or my personal life. I definitely don’t always know the answers when it comes to her health, although I try my best. However, I can answer questions about cushions, and sometimes that’s all that matters.