If only someone else had gone first.
If only Keith had been by his mother’s side.
If only we’d paid more attention, our Thanksgiving gathering wouldn’t be permanently etched in our minds.
Excited to be celebrating Thanksgiving with Keith’s family for the first time in three years and anticipating the upcoming feast, we were careless.
And Grandma paid the price.
Shortly after arriving at our niece’s house Thanksgiving afternoon, Keith’s 86-year-old mother Marie misjudged the one step down into the living room and fell.
We all stared, horrified at the sight of our beloved sister/ mother/grandmother quietly sprawled on the floor with her eyes closed.
Greeks or Italians would have been in chaos with everyone talking loudly at once. Even-keeled Midwest Scandinavian Lutherans handle emergencies with an ominous quiet.
Responses varied. Marie’s two stoic Danish eighty something brothers didn’t move, didn’t flinch, just stared with grim resignation as they watched the scene unfold.
Someone yelled, “Grandma!”
An uncle told the kids to stay in the downstairs family room.
Keith growled “What happened?” in his “Heads are going to roll voice.” Although by that point it was pretty obvious. The thing we had all dreaded had finally happened.
I tentatively peeked around the kitchen corner and saw Marie’s leg splayed in a suspicious angle. I quickly retreated and told Keith’s niece, “I can’t look.”
Either I’m Danish and don’t know it, or I’ve picked up their traits by osmosis, or being squeamish trumps common sense, but I’m pretty sure an emotionally healthy, well-adjusted adult wouldn’t go back into the kitchen to finish making a salad while their mother-in-law lies in pain on the floor in the next room.
Marie’s health has significantly deteriorated over the last year. Mostly her memory, but high blood pressure, cataracts, arthritis, and a bad knee have taken a toll. Nobody likes to say the “D” word but dementia is slowly clouding her mind.
Last month Keith’s sister Karen moved Marie to assisted living. We wanted to put Marie in a safe place and lighten Karen’s load, but instead moving aggravated the situation. Routine and familiarity allowed Marie to function. Change did not.
Thankfully Keith’s sister-in-law Sacia isn’t Scandinavian and had recently completed Ski Patrol emergency medical training and isn’t squeamish or cowardly so took control of the situation. She methodically checked Marie’s limbs and to our subdued joyous surprise, nothing was broken.
Thankfully Kiah worked as a nursing home CNA for five years, is a first semester nursing student, and isn’t squeamish so also knew what to do.
So ironic how things come full circle. When Kiah at 18 months old, badly cut her lip on a bookshelf and had to be stitched up, her Grandma held and soothed her.
Twenty years later, when Kiah knelt beside her injured grandmother while Sacia announced that Marie had cut her head on the bookshelf and needed stitches, Kiah held her grandmother’s hand and said, “I love you Grandma.”
Keith, his brother, and niece took Marie to the Emergency Room where they put four staples into her head. And discovered an irregular heart beat, which may or may not have been caused by the accident.
The rest of us half-heartedly sat down to our Thanksgiving meal, muted, sober, preoccupied.
An ER doctor confirmed no broken bones, no concussion, nothing obviously wrong except the head wound. We’re thankful because it easily could have been so much worse.
Dementia isn’t all bad. As traumatic as yesterday was, she doesn’t remember it.
But we do. No doubt everyone’s claimed a portion of the blame and wondered what they could have done to prevent the accident.