Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Weekend of Family, Wine, and Dementia

While the rest of DC was overwhelmed with Inauguration festivities over the weekend, I took a trip with my family to visit my grandma in Geneva, New York. It was the first time in as long as I can remember that a journey to visit Grandma didn't involved a trip to my dad's hometown of Verona, New York. The family moved Grandma to an assisted living home in Geneva a few years ago when everyone realized that she wasn't safe living on her own. Now she lives close to my aunt (about an hour from where she used to live), so instead of staying at Grandma's house and using that as the central meeting spot like we always used to do, we stayed in a hotel and all met up at my aunt's house.

It felt weird to go somewhere different, but I really enjoyed staying in Geneva. It's located on Seneca Lake (one of the Finger Lakes) and has beautiful views. Because it was settled in the late 1700s, the town is full of amazing historic architecture. There were a bunch of restaurants and shops that I wish we had time to check out, but we'll have to do that next time we're in town.

Friday evening we arrived and and went out to eat at Halsey's in downtown Geneva. After enjoying some gourmet pizza there, we ventured over to my aunt's house for a little while before retiring to our hotel on the lake...which unfortunately involved my sister and I sharing a double bed while my brother got his own.

Saturday we spent the day at my aunt's house, which was chock full of grandmas, aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins' kiddos, two dogs, and three cats. One of the dogs was my cousin's huge boxer, Chevy. Despite his 90 lbs hulk-like frame, he's a hugger. My sister could not get enough of him, which was photographed on many occasions throughout the weekend. The cats were also really friendly, but I had to avoid petting them since I'm allergic to cats (bummer).

After we took Grandma back to her place Saturday night, the rest of the family met up at our hotel bar. It sounds a little lame, but it was so much fun to get out of the house and visit late into the evening with family I don't get to see very often.

Sunday morning we had breakfast with two of my cousins who were leaving that day, and then picked Grandma up and took her to lunch. Afterwards, we dropped off Grandma and headed to my dad's cousin's house to visit with her. She recently purchased one of the historic homes on South Main Street in downtown Geneva, so we took advantage of the trip and got a tour of her new place while we were there. South Main Street is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Her house, built in the early 1800s, is one of the oldest row houses on the street. As a result of the historical significance, she knows a lot more about her house than most people do about their homes, like when specific additions were built, the fact that the house was at one point connected to the house next door, that the original front doors were likely imported from Italy, and a whole host of other info. You can even see historical photos of the property on a website dedicated to the South Main Street historic district.  The house was SO cool. I snapped a few photos with my phone while I was there.

After we toured our cousin's house, she took us to White Springs Winery where she works a day or two a week. Seneca Lake is lined with vineyards and wineries because the lake moderates the climate in the area and makes the hills around it good for grape growing. It's becoming a popular destination for wine tour vacations, so it was fun to take advantage of the family connection and have a personal wine tasting in the area. You can learn more about the Seneca Lake Wine Trail through their website. Once we were done with our excursions, we headed back to my aunt's house for dinner and football watching.

Of course the only picture I took during our trip to the winery was of a rug that I loved, which was hanging on the wall. 
For as much fun as I had with the family, this trip was a big reminder that I'm not a kid anymore. One of the weirdest things about growing up is that all the stuff you knew would probably happen, but you could never really imagine happening, is happening now. For the most part the changes are good. Two of my cousins have children. One of my cousins is getting married in September. Another is renovating a house with her husband and son. Almost all the cousins are over 21 at this point, which means we can enjoy fun evenings in a hotel bar together.

Other changes are rough. My Grandma has dementia...or is it Alzheimer's now? I'm not sure at this point. As a result of a few falls and a confused "escape" from the assisted living facility, she is now in a locked wing that is for people with memory problems. They take good care of her and she is safest there, but it still feels weird to walk into the place and be greeted by a room full of elderly people asleep in chairs "watching" kittens play on Animal Planet. This is not how I remember Grandma, though I suspect I am not as she remembers me. Is this how everyone feels? That their loved ones just don't seem to belong in a place like that yet even when they do? Interesting how denial and dementia can play the same tricks on you.

I look terrible in this photo but everyone else looks good. I REALLY need a haircut. I also need to stop parting my bangs so far over. It makes my face look fat. 
Thankfully, Grandma remembers us and has plenty of lucid moments, like when she was pleased when Syracuse basketball won a close game Saturday night (Grandpa always watched Syracuse basketball). It's the moments when she gets worried that she doesn't have her keys and won't be able to get into the house when we're taking her home ("You don't live at that house anymore, Grandma"), and the moments when she tells us she can't remember why "Dad" couldn't join us (we don't bother to remind her that Grandpa died six years ago), that are awful. And they're more awful when my dad, my aunts, and my uncle are around, because as hard as it is to witness what age will do to what was once a very bright mind, it's harder to watch how much it hurts the immediate family her mind is gradually leaving behind.

At this point I'm wishing I took pictures with more than just my iPhone. 
I keep reminding myself that Grandma is 88, and while this condition just plain sucks, a lot of people don't make it to this point. In many ways she is doing well for 88. Her eyes are still bright and her smile is ever beautiful  (fingers crossed I inherited some of those genes). She is one of the few people in the whole facility who does not rely on a walker to get from point A to point B. And she is often shocked to learn she is 88. Youth is a mentality, not an age, right?

This trip, as they more often seem to be, was bittersweet. This is our new normal and although it's rough seeing Grandma in this state, the weekend was one of the nicest visits I've had with the rest of the  family in a very long time. I will always miss playing croquet in Grandma's back yard and enjoying her breakfast pastries, but it's fun to do something new and change up our traditions as the family dynamic changes. It makes me wonder--and look forward to--what else we might enjoy together as things continue to change. I really hope that those who couldn't make the trip are able to make the next one.

So that was my weekend. Family-filled, politics-free. How was your long weekend? Did you go on vacation? Check out the inauguration festivities?

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