A Toddler Processing Dementia and Death

I have been blogging about all that has happened over the past years in regard to Dementia and the eventual death that has taken Denny’s grandmother, his father, my father, and then Denny himself and even my little dog. Writing has been extremely therapeutic to me as I have tried to process through the events of the last handful of years particularly. But I have also had the opportunity to witness a little toddler process everything in his own way as well. My daughter’s little baby came with her to live with us in Laramie for a time while Denny was going through dementia. Then the baby grew into toddler-hood… and watched all the goings-on carefully.

My little grandson was present when Denny was in the hospital in Laramie with his newly-broken leg. That was also during the season in which Denny had come up with his “Happy Song”, singing it in the hospital to nurses, doctors, technicians, and to his little grandson when he came to visit. Somehow that Happy Song made a hospital visit not so scary, especially when the person who had to be admitted to the hospital was the one who was singing it!

Then that little grandson–we’ll call him “Cutie” in this post–was present when Denny was placed in the transitional nursing facility in Colorado Springs. Cutie’s momma would bring him almost daily to visit his grandpa. Cutie found that he himself liked to watch The Andy Griffith Show as much as his grandpa did. And Cutie was greeted with grandpa’s Happy Song nearly every visit.

When the nursing facility announced that they were going to dismiss Denny from their facility to in-home Hospice Care, we (my kids and I) prepared my quickly rented condominium for his arrival. Some gentle guys rolled Denny down the hall of the nursing facility in a gurney; then placed him in the back of an ambulance for the ride to my condo. Little Cutie was not present at the proceedings, but he was told about it later. He was enamored with medical “stuff”. He couldn’t pronounce the letter “L” or “R” – they ended up as “Y” for “L” and “W” for “R”. But he was WAY excited when he heard that Gwampa got to wide in a ambience. [Translation: Grandpa got to ride in an ambulance.]

Denny (Gwampa) being transferred to an ambulance
for the ride to my condominium, following a stint at
a transitional nursing facility.

So Little Cutie came to our Condo often, watching Andy Gwiffith and hearing reruns (“wewuns”) of Gwandpa’s happy song. He saw the nurses as well as his mommy, aunt, and Gwammie (that’s me!) take care of his Gwampa.

Cutie was there the day Denny died. Cutie saw all the activity: relatives taking turns to say last precious words; the nurse running in and out taking calls or getting meds. Cutie saw all the tears. He heard the music Auntie Teresa played for Gwampa on her phone as Denny took his last breath. And Cutie, with all our family holding one another, watched Denny’s last trip back out to the ambulance. Cutie’s mommy hugged him tightly, saying that his Grandpa got to go to be with God in heaven and wasn’t sick anymore, but was so happy to be out of his sick body.

At the close of that traumatic day, Cutie joined the whole family [until he wisely fell asleep] — Mommy, Gwammy, Auntie Tesa and Uncle Nick, Auntie Torsi and Uncle Bywon, Denny’s sister Aunt Barbie and Uncle Phil. We huddled out on Tesa and Nick’s deck with candles and heaters and blankets until late in the evening, sharing supper while telling our best memories of Gwampa; laughing, crying, loving the memory of Denny while comforting one another.

One of Cutie’s aunts far across the country was able to find the picture of Denny in his online obituary. She printed it out in color, placed it in a clear pouch on the front of this “Grandpa Bear”, and sped it across the country to Cutie. What an incredibly thoughtful gift. Little Cutie…and all of the rest of us… love Grandpa Bear, keeping Grandpa’s memory alive in such a sweet way.

So this little Cutie initiated his own play therapy–but just with GWAMMIE, not with anyone else, weirdly enough. This is what happened the FIRST of such play dates: I was babysitting him at my daughter’s condominium. As soon as Emma left to go play her cello gig, Cutie proceeded to take all of the huge cushions off the couch. I said, “Whatcha doin’?” He replied, “I make an ambience. I be the dwiver. And I will dwive you to the hospital to die!” Let that sink in.

Repeat Scenario… So we played that interesting scenario over and over and over. I think he was mainly excited to be the dwiver of a cool ambulance. I hope he wasn’t excited to see me die…but he might have thought that would make me happy, since he was told Denny was happy going to be with God. So I get it! And I will indeed be happy to go when it is my time as well. We are just practicing now.

Transitioning from Gwammie to stuffed animal patients… Eventually, Cutie let ME be the driver and HE was the patient. We played that over and over at my new townhouse. And he loved that I had bought him little fire engine and ambulance vehicles (called “we-ickles” in Cutie language). Unknowingly to me when I bought them, those same vehicles…er… we-ickles… would help enhance his play therapy. He used those we-ickles to take all his stuffed animals to the hospital to die. I did tell him repeatedly that most patients go in the ambulance to the hospital and get WELL. Not all DIE. Just sayin’.

One day, I was driving Cutie to his daycare. He was always very excited to hear any sirens and would comment on the ambulance or police vehicles rushing by. But this day he was very quiet in the back seat for a time. Then he broke the silence by bursting into song with Grandpa’s Happy Song. He knew all the words and sang it not only that day, but nearly every trip to or from his daycare if and when I would transport him during the first few months after Denny’s death. Cutie singing Denny’s happy song! That was indeed a blessing to this particular mourner: I received it as a true gift from God.

One day at daycare little Cutie had an accident and had what seemed like a bad cut on the back of his head, since it was bleeding profusely. The daycare called Cutie’s momma and told her she needed to come take him to Urgent Care. But momma was out of town at her work for the day! So she called Gwammy to do the deed.

When I showed up at the daycare to pick up my patient, Cutie’s eyes were so happy and excited since he got to go be a REAL PATIENT! I took him to the Urgent Care facility but had to fill out a lot of paperwork before Cutie could be seen. He was wrapped in a towel, since his shirt was so bloody. Cutie sat like the best boy ever next to me in the waiting room while I dealt with piles of paperwork, all the while his eyes lit up with the anticipation of being a real patient and seeing a real doctor.

It was finally time. The nurse called us into an examination room. She lifted Cutie up to the exam bed/table, and you would have thought she had crowned him King for the Day! What a smile!! At his new height up on the table, he could see what was on the counters. His eyes slowly moved round about the room and widened as he saw the box of blue disposable gloves. Pointing to them, he excitedly stammered, “Th-those gwoves are y-yike the ones at Gwammy’s pwace when G-Gwampa was there!” I told the nurse what Cutie had been through with his Grandpa, and that he was fascinated with nurses, doctors, hospitals and ambulances…and blue gloves. So she made sure to let the doctor know before he came in the room.

Beyond the call of duty… Let me tell you, that doctor went above and beyond the call of duty, giving Cutie FULL TREATMENT! After first checking the head injury (with his hands in those awesome blue gloves), Doc said it was just a surface wound that would heal quickly. But then he showed Cutie the stethoscope and explained it to him, listening to Cutie’s heart and lungs. Then Doc let Cutie hear the Doc’s heartbeat! Next, Doc showed him the device he used to check ears, letting Cutie look in the doc’s ears. Next, Doc brought out the little pen light he used to check people’s eyes and tried that out on Cutie. He did everything he could think of, encouraged by a hugely smiling Cutie face. Cutie was in heaven. All he needed were Band-Aids to make it look like something important happened.

Cutie showing off bandaid-ed owies

So, our little Cutie used his self-appointed play therapy for about two months. He rarely plays “Ambulance, Hospital, and Death” anymore. I think he acted that out sufficiently to cover several of our lifetimes. But this little fella, I believe, came away with a love for family, seeing all of us come together for such a difficult time. He saw love played out. And he saw the medical community do their work beautifully, respectfully and professionally.

We would all be proud of Cutie if he chooses to follow such a career down the line. But he also loves Twucks! And he loves to lay out all my circle pillows into a “dwum” trap set, using wooden spoons to beat on them [highly recommended! –softest drumming ever!]. And he wuvs all the other musical instwuments. The hardest thing to bear is that he is starting to say his “R’s” and “L’s” correctly. But that is good. We ALL need to move on…

Tune in next week for the next post that will be on Cruella. Then I will write a post on Hospice.

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