My grandmother is a classic narcissist. My first memory of her was when I was probably five or six years old and she was so mad at me that I wouldn’t clear my plate of blueberry blintzes despite that the plate was large and I wasn’t hungry enough to eat them all being a five year old girl. That isn’t the best example of her narcissism, but it’s my first memory of her. An old video shows her extremely annoyed by my childish antics and saying she doesn’t want to visit anymore, only half joking. My reaction at maybe all by four years old is “that’s mean.” She also thought the Obama family personally sent her a handwritten note because she’s so well respected in the world, and made me invite Bob Dole to my Bat Mitzvah since she was somehow involved in his campaign (shockingly, he declined.)
She has three children – three daughters (my mother being the oldest) who all have pieces of the same narcissism embedded in their own personalities to varying degrees. And, now that their mother is dying, no one really wants to deal with it. It’s a difficult situation because she had gambled away her life savings ($300k+) and never once thanks her daughters for anything they do to help her out – her natural state is complaining about whatever situation she is in, even if it’s her own fault she got there.
I do understand that being old sucks. Her husband died many years ago and she spent all the time after that being a gambling addict. What else was she going to do? No one wanted to be around her. At the casino the workers would listen to her stories and pretend to care. She had an audience. And she paid dearly for it. But what else was she going to do when her own daughters didn’t want to visit her?
But then a few years ago she fell and had to move into a home on the outskirts of Las Vegas. For what it is, it’s nice. But it’s also a small house in suburbia with no way out but “up.” She has her own room which was a requirement for her (and luckily something that my mother figured out she could afford barely) but she has no one to come visit to take her out to even get some fresh air. The other seniors who live in the house certainly can’t stand her (though at the same time she doesn’t get bored of talking and telling her delusional stories so she might be somewhat entertaining to them) so she’s just alone. Old and alone and her own daughters bicker about whether they should go out to see her as her condition declines. The middle sister this morning asked if she would have to go out to the funeral (the older sister doesn’t actually work or have any major commitments that would keep her from traveling.) Meanwhile the younger sister would go because she lives with the most guilt and my mother, the oldest sister, would go even though she wouldn’t want to and she wouldn’t have any emotions around the situation because she has no emotions.
My grandmother is losing her mind, as an old person does, but it’s always hard to know how much so since her mind was always lost. She fell a few months ago and they had to take her to the hospital but she refused to be treated for any of her issues so they sent her home to be on hospice care and basically to die. However, one doesn’t die overnight. Dying can be a long process in which you’re left alone to suffer through all the pains that come along with the body shutting down.
Yesterday, the manager of the home called my mother to tell her that grandma hasn’t eaten in four days. We all were a bit stunned that they decided to wait that long to call. No one at the home seemed to know exactly her state and she was asleep. Hospice care apparently only means checking in three times a week and giving her a weekly bath. I had to get on the phone with the home to ask these questions because not one of her daughters could think of how to help in the situation.
Since she hasn’t eaten for four days, my first question was – why? Is she in such a bad state that she can’t eat anymore and is very close to death – or is there another reason? The closet I came to experiencing death was watching my grandfather in his last weeks. He was at the hospital and being fed through a feeding tube and hooked up to lots of machines and you could hear the rattling in his chest. He eventually was sent to a hospice house where he died fairly quickly. I didn’t see the very end, but I did see him at the hospital, and I’m glad I did. It does provide some closure to be able to say goodbyes – and also just to understand that it’s the body’s time to pass.
But I’m not clear my grandmother is in that state yet. When we finally got her on the phone today she couldn’t hear a thing but the woman caretaker was able to communicate with her. We found out she ate a half slice of toast today but she doesn’t want to eat because her body burns (she always has had bad acid reflux but refuses to take medicine for it.) She also has other various ailments that could be cured or helped significantly by taking some basic meds but no one can convince her of that. She’s pretty much determined to die at this point – and that’s her right. And she is dying. But I can’t help thinking of how horrible it is to be alone – no matter how awful a person’s spirit is – that doesn’t chance that they deserve to have as good as possible of an end of life experience.
At the moment her mind flutters between reality and memories and delusions – but she very clearly remembers that I’m marrying someone who isn’t Jewish and brings that up all the time. Apparently last week she had convinced herself that her youngest daughter (while on the phone with her) was the one marrying someone who isn’t Jewish and she went on and on about how the children aren’t going to be Jewish and all the problems they will have… she’s definitely in and out of reality, but that she won’t forget.
My mother was trying to figure out whether she should go out there. Actually, all the sisters are trying to figure out when they should visit. My mother has a wedding to go to this weekend (and then my wedding coming up in a few weeks but this is actually a good time for her to go otherwise.) Her middle sister doesn’t care to see her mother at all before or after she dies. Her youngest sister wants to go but she is still working and has a lot going on in her life, but she’d make the time for it. The younger two are more bitter at their mother for how she has treated them through the years and my mother has not an angry of bitter bone in her body to use. She also has no caring bone. She just manages logistics. She has no heart.
When I heard my grandma wasn’t eating, I immediately thought we should try to get her the one meal that she loves — lamp chops with mint jelly — from the casino she would gamble all her money away at in her early senior years. I understand she wouldn’t want to eat any of the crappy food at the home that they serve but if she could get lamp chops, maybe she’d want to eat that. Maybe she wouldn’t, but at least then we’d see if she was capable of eating. I called the restaurant and tried to coordinate a delivery of the lamp chops but it turns out they’re no longer on the menu and the manager promised to call me back after he spoke with the chef today to see if they could make them still. If I could get them made I would be able to get an Uber driver to deliver them. She’d never appreciate someone doing that for her – surely she’d find something to complain about. Our family doesn’t know how to say thanks or to appreciate when other people do things for them. I’m guilty of this too, for sure, but at least I’m aware of it.
What I’ve realized this week too is how much I care… care about other people’s happiness… and how much I enjoy caring. Well, I knew this already, but I’ve come back to it. As I falter again and again in business where I’m not allowed to have a heart, I find myself still most comfortable caring about other people. And I do care – I care about my grandma being left alone in a room to die in a pile of her own shit. I know her daughter’s either hate her or don’t want to intervene with her wishes to just die in peace. So maybe doing nothing is the right thing to do. We asked her on the phone today if she wants my mother to visit and her answer was no – she’s too sick and not in a state to see people. She always wants to put on her makeup and look “perfect” for any guests. But how do you explain to an old crazy narcissistic lady that she won’t ever see her daughters again if she waits until she’s ready to wear makeup and pull herself together? And would she even care?