18 January, 2009

Visiting Grandma

For the last two years, Sundays have been a day for riding with my dad to visit my grandma. At ninety years old, she was finally admitted permanently to a nursing home in August, something she is very unhappy about. Unhappy in that it seems like a convenient way to tuck her away and forget about her. At least that is the impression I get from her whenever she calls me. The last two years have been incredibly hard on her. As a mother of six, she never expected to outlive so many of her own children, but as luck would have it four of her six children are dead and one is lost to her. My dad is her only living son, and though I love my dad very much, he has never been a very emotional kind of person. He doesn't express himself well, when he actually does try to express himself, and that can leave you wondering what's really going on inside his head.

Over a period of about eighteen months, his three older brothers have all died. It started when my Uncle Lee, who lived with and cared for my Grandmother for the last ten years, dying in a tragic car accident. About six months later, my Uncle Ed's condition worsened and at the time they only expected him to live a couple weeks. Uncle Ed was mentally ill and spent quite a good chunk of his adult life in and out of special care facilities. During the last year of his life, I traveled every other week with my dad to visit his brother.

Uncle Ed was an interesting character to say the least. Even up until the end he had a lot of lofty ideas about how he would like to one day work in a bakery making donuts. Our visits, which often consisted of Dad driving around for half an hour so my uncle could smoke about eight cigarettes, were somewhat hard on my dad. I'm not sure if it was because of the pressures going on in his own life, or because my uncle was mentally ill, but I could always tell it was hard on him. Nevertheless, we ventured to the nursing home together on Sundays on see Uncle Ed, sometimes driving him over to visit with Grandma.

He had hepatitis c, and though his body fought it off a lot longer than they originally anticipated, he finally passed away. Not long after that, my Grandma's oldest son, Carl, died from cancer. It was all very hard on her.

Sometimes she calls me to tell me how lonely she is. It breaks my heart that we don't go and see her more often. As I mentioned above, up until this past summer, she was very independent. She worked right up until she was 87 years old, get this... caring for the elderly. She took care of an elderly couple who were twenty years younger than she was. She drove right up until then, but finally her eyesight grew so poor that she was no longer able to see to drive at night, and eventually she didn't feel comfortable driving at all.

I won't lie. There's a part of me that fears growing old sometimes, that fears the inevitable death that claims all of our lives in the end, but it's the great loneliness that comes with being elderly that bothers me the most. She said today while we were visiting her in her small cubicle of space, cut in half to share with a woman she never met until two days ago when the woman moved in... "I guess this is my home now." There was terrible sadness in her voice, as though the realization was too much for her to really wrap her mind around. My dad made light of it by pointing out, "At least you don't have to do a lot of cleaning anymore." She didn't laugh. She would have laughed at that even just six months ago. She just twitched and said, "No, they have people, and they do a good job. They come in and dust and sweep, even underneath everything..."

For the last year she has talked about being depressed, experiencing a sense of tiredness that is so heavy she just doesn't even want to get out of bed. Would this depression be lessened if she got to see her family every day? Sometimes I wonder why we started putting our elders in sterilized homes with other elders so someone else can take care of them. I wonder what happened to the sense of family unity that more or less dictated that the young care for the old. Then I think of all the times I said myself that as much as I love my own mother, I don't think I could care for her when she was old.

It makes me a little sad. This whole blog is very depressing. I won't deny that. But the small ray of light in it all is that even though the weather was bad, I was so happy that I got to see her today. I wish I could see her every day, just so I could make her feel the happiness and sense of family she deserves. Maybe I should take advantage of the fact that Jason isn't working regularly right now and start going to see her by myself once or twice during the week. I hate driving in the city, but she's a good enough reason to do it.

I think one of the reasons I'm so melancholy today is because I'm tired. The aforementioned sleepover from yesterday's blog has me up most of the night and then out of be way earlier than I would have liked. On a positive note, in the quiet this morning while the girls all slept in, I wrote the next chapter in the story I've been working on. That made me very happy. And now, I'm off to do some research for the next chapter, which I hope to at least get started on before bed tonight.


Susan said...


We all can only do what we can do -- so don't beat yourself up over not seeing her more often.

That said, its an incredible gift that you still have her. Having a grandmother who loves you is a wonderful thing....and connecting with her by phone, letter or in person is as good for you as it is for her.

Sheri said...

I agree with Jenny, you can only do so much. I am sure she knows that you love her and do what you can. :)

Congrats on getting a chapter written in your book! That is a great feeling indeed.

P.S. - I’m tagging you to join in the Desk Tag fun! Check it out on my Blog.

Anny Cook said...

I suspect that she would love to receive letters from you... especially with pictures. That would also give her a sense of connection. Perhaps even more than the visits because she could re-read them when she gets lonely.

Leon Basin said...

Hey, how are you doing? hope all is well.

Jenny Beans said...

Thanks for all of the thoughts, everyone. I appreciate the suggestions as, well.

Morgan Mandel said...

It's no lie. Caring for aging family members and doing what's right for them is very difficult. Even when you know you have limitations and can't do it yourself,it's still hard to put them in the care of strangers.

Getting old is a very scary thing.

Morgan Mandel