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What do we do with Gramma?

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As has been our custom for the last several years my wife and I flew down to spend Thanksgiving with her 93-year-old mother. Jean lives alone in a semi-rural area in the hills above Jackson, California. She is still mentally sharp and very much with it, though we make sure not to venture into politics. She has lived in her house for more than 30 years and outlived two husbands.

On more than one occasion she has stubbornly informed us that the only way she will be taken out of her house is "feet first, in a box or on a gurney." With each visit we find her a bit more fragile, her eyesight failing and the house dirtier and things just a little more disheveled. How well she eats is also somewhat of a mystery. This year when we called from the Sacramento airport to say we were on our way she informed us she wasn't feeling very well, wasn't sure why, maybe the flu.

When we arrived she got up to greet us, but was moving slowly and immediately made her way back to the recliner. Within a few minutes she revealed she had passed out the previous week and as a result a friend had insisted she take Jean to the emergency room of the local hospital. After waiting for three hours the diagnosis was a bladder infection. In our previous visits we had set up a routine to assure she would drink seven large glasses of water a day. However, she often forgets.

The day after we arrived she had a scheduled appointment with her doctor. She and my wife made their way to Stockton's Kaiser. The doctor was concerned about her having fainted and installed a heart monitor that was to be on for 24 hours. He then, added emphatically, to both women. "She should not be living alone." Once back home that afternoon Jean seemed to be better, though still weak and eating next to nothing. However, the next day, as she and my wife were making preparations for Thanksgiving, Jean felt faint, lost color, and collapsed in a nearby chair.

At dinner that night we initiated a conversation about dehydration and nourishment. Hesitantly we then raised the possibility of someone coming to live with her. "I don't want someone living with me, but I know you don't always get what you want," she offered in a defiant tone. After an extended period of silence and some tears she agreed to call a woman, Beth, who had assisted a friend.

The next day Beth stopped by and we agreed beginning Saturday she would come for two hours each morning, seven days a week.

The next three weeks will be a trial period. The family will then reevaluate the arrangement. It's only been a few days, but the report back has been surprisingly positive. Beth has cleaned the house, done laundry and is now reorganizing the pantry along with keeping an eye on Jean's eating and water intake.

We shall see. It is definitely a dilemma. On the one hand, we want to respect Jean's independence and desire to remain in her home. On the other, she seems less and less able to care for herself and more prone to mishaps.

West Linner Dave Hawbecker is an Oregonian for the third time. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..