This I Believe
Two events happened within close proximity to one another: Mom and Dad divorced and Grandpa passed away. Before I knew it, we were leaving the city for the great “up north.” Grandpa’s station wagon bore a heavy load: my three older uncles, my two younger sisters, Mom, Grandma, and me. We arrived in Blue Lake in 1978. We began our new life, trying to overcome our sense of grief and loss, but we had each other and that made all the difference.
Money became tighter, and mom went to work. Grandma became our primary caregiver—cleaning a five-bedroom home and cooking meals for eight. I can vividly recall the massive pots of stew and spaghetti that adorned our dinner table. There wasn’t a waking moment when Grandma was not busy. And when it came to behavior, there was no pulling the wool over Grandma’s eyes. She could be your worst nightmare, or your saving grace.
Now when I enter Grandma’s house, it’s through the double doors, down the corridor to room 212 on the left. Blue Lake is a distant memory now, and we’ve all grown up. I see Grandma sitting there, isolated on her side of the room via a forgettable curtain. She has room enough for her bed and one rocking chair, which is where I sit.
I notice that today is a day that she has forgotten, so I strike up conversations about Blue Lake and the time that Grandma greased a cookie sheet so that I could go on to become champion of “Two-track Hill.” She remembers for a moment, and her eyes ignite with recognition. She smiles faintly, then it morphs into a frown. Tears fill her eyes and she asks, “When can I go home?” She doesn’t remember that she’s here because, months ago, she became ill with pneumonia and we didn’t think she’d make it. She could no longer go on without full-time care.
I think of how we once were, and how unfair it seems. I think about the forecasts that I read online that predict that more than half of all elderly women and 1/3 of all elderly men will end up in a nursing home before they die. I think of the Grandma from Blue Lake who sacrificed so much to take care of us. I think, “After all of her hard work, this is what she gets?” Intuitively, I know that no one will ever care for Grandma well enough—except us. But I also know that we’re not skilled enough to give her the sophisticated care that she sometimes needs – or the daily visits from the doctor.
Whether they have raised us from childhood or not, I believe that we need to find a way to celebrate our elderly as they make the journey into dependency and out of life; just as we celebrate our new, dependent infants when they enter the world. We can’t afford not to look deeply into this matter; if not for our elderly, then for ourselves, because we’re all on the same journey – just at different points along the way.
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