My 95-year-old grandmother always bemoaned the fact that she wasn’t more active. Never mind the fact that she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease (actually, we never told her that), arthritis, blindness, deafness, gum disease, incontinence, poor balance, stroke, and constipation. “I should be helping you children,” she would say, “You work your fingers to the bone and I just sit here like a bump on a log. I could at least wash the dishes.”
For years, we told her, “No, grandmother. You’ve worked hard for years. Now it’s your turn to relax. Don’t worry. We can wash the dishes.” But she wasn’t convinced or impressed.
But what else could we do? After all, if you were looking to hire a dishwasher, you wouldn’t run a newspaper ad that said:
Speed not important
Applicants with visual or tactile impairments welcome
Must be able to wash dishes while leaning on a cane
Apply in person
Still, what was she doing all day long? She slept late. We would usually have to wake her for breakfast. Then we gave her a bath, if she didn’t take another nap first. Then scheduling a bath would get a little harder. She would crawl out of bed for lunch, but she might do that late too. After an afternoon nap, she would get up again in the late afternoon, which was her prime time. In the late afternoon she would drink some spiced tea (decaf, and about half milk) and eat some cookies. She would listen to the radio, or I would read to her, or she would watch television (except she couldn’t really see it). After dinner or supper (“or whatever you may call it,” she would say), we might stay up for another couple of hours but that was about all we could expect?
So what was she doing all day long? I tried to put myself in her shoes. At the end of the day, what could she be proud of having accomplished? She was passing the time, but for a woman who had been extremely active, what was she really doing?
Well, she wants to wash the dishes, I thought to myself. It’s her house, it’s her kitchen. Why not let her?
So Grandma began washing the dishes. And no, she didn’t do it with a cane in one hand. She left her cane nearby. She balanced herself in front of the sink, and grabbed onto it whenever she needed to steady herself. And yes, the dishes were usually completely clean. Because before we started, I would usually rinse off any food that was stuck on. But not always.
“Now you tell me if I’m not doing it right,” she would caution me. Sometimes I would send a plate back to her half of the sink, and I should have done it more often. Because she didn’t mind. She seemed refreshed by the opportunity to do some chores at last, and by the rare chance to work with someone who would tell her the truth. I tried not to give her the hard truth, under almost all circumstances, but maybe she would have appreciated it more than half truths.