I knew you'd want to know this...
I'm so cool.

About six months ago my mom’s parents moved nearer us so we could help them. Up until then they’d lived on their own. Grandma’s been in a wheelchair for a while, but Grandpa took care of her, and they did fine. But then Grandpa developed a problem with his back, and in an amazingly short period of time, he also needed a wheelchair. So they moved up here. Two blocks away, in the independent living senior residences.
And so began a new phase in our family’s life, wherein we worked to support the illusion that Grandma and Grandpa are living independently. I don’t want to go into all the details, because it would sound like complaining, and that’s truly not what I’m trying to do here. But suffice to say that a huge effort has gone into supporting them and making their life work. Particularly for my mom, it’s been life changing.
A few weeks ago Grandma fell, getting out of bed. She broke her leg. A broken leg means she cannot transfer herself from bed to wheelchair, etc. So she went to a care center for a week of physical therapy. After a week it was determined that no further physical therapy would help until the leg healed more – in about four weeks. So she moved to a nursing home, so she would have the care she needs while she awaits more physical therapy. Grandma and Grandpa have been married for 62 years and hate to be apart, so we bring him over there every morning, and home every night.
As we try to make all the pieces fit, Grandpa and Grandma both strive to assure us that this is temporary, that they will be “back to normal” soon.
I’m dumbstruck when they say that, because although I hope there will be improvements, that Grandma’s leg will heal well enough for her to go home, this new phase of their life is not temporary. I wish it were, but it’s just not.
Sometimes I want to grab them by the shoulders, to sternly instruct them of the reality of their situation. But it seems to me they are grieving. They are fiddling with the details of their life to avoid looking at the whole picture.
So at every opportunity, they hasten to remind us that this is temporary, that they won’t need so much help soon. When I went to see Grandma on the day she was moving from the original care center, she gripped my hand and said, “You know, this next move is just a step to getting home to our own little apartment.” I didn’t know what to say. I hope she’s right, but it’s not something I can promise.
When I drive Grandpa over to see Grandma, he sits in the passenger’s seat, and cranes his neck to check oncoming traffic before I make a turn. He quizzes me on street names, and assures me he will be driving soon.
“Don’t worry; I won’t be taking up your time like this any more. I’ll get back to driving and you won’t have to take time out of your day like this.”
I always assure him that it’s ok, I don’t mind, but what I can’t say is that the thought of him driving is what actually worries me.
I don’t blame him for feeling anxious. The details of his life, that used to fit comfortably within his cupped hand, have spilled out. Now everyone except him is gathering them up, carrying them for him, assuring him, “It’s ok, don’t worry. I’ve got this.”
But it’s his life. And he is left, staring at his empty hand, fretting about how he’s going to assimilate it all again.
The other day we were driving along the Dam Road, a road that traces the apex of the dam that forms the Cherry Creek Reservoir. Grandpa looked down at the boats bobbing on the water below, and (ever the professor) it sparked in him a lesson.
“You know the sound a boat makes when it’s moored, or at anchor?” he said. “The water moving against the hull makes…” he gestured with one open hand, as though he were reaching into the air between us for the right word, “a sort of sploosh noise. After some time, that noise can get to a man. It can drive someone crazy. You can’t get away from it – you’re stuck. But do you know what they call that noise? Scupper music. When you call it that, it takes on a life of its own. It becomes soothing, something to enjoy.”
For Grandpa, it was just another of life’s interesting details he’s collected like his own private jewel collection. But I wished he could really listen to what he was saying. If I had the nerve - or the right to comment on his life - I would have taken him by the hand and said, “Relax for a minute, Grandpa. I know this isn’t where you want to be, but listen. Just let us help. Let it be scupper music.”

Comments

lizardek

What a lovely post. It must be so incredibly hard to see the changes up close and personal that happen when the people you love age and falter. I haven't been exposed to much of it since I'm so far away from my family, but this really brings it home.

jilbur

Thank you, Kira. I will carry these words with me for some time.

wow. nice.
My Dad is declining rapidly with Parkinsons. He can barely cope with losing my Mom 19 months ago. To fully acept that he won't be driving would be too much. He complains about the drs. ability to remove his liscence (which hasn't happened yet, but my sisters and I drive him)... somehow the finality of the changes are very difficult to keep in consciousness... he must know

jasmine

WOW. Lovely, brave, and honest entry.

Hula Doula

Sweetie, It's so good of you to take care of them the way that you do. You will be glad you did it. I know it is tough and sometimes inconvenient but it really is a comfort I'm sure.
My grandparents were married for 66 years when they came to live with my husband and me. I was 27 at the time. We had just found out we were pregnant and bought a new house and took them on as a responsibility. It was a ton of change. BUT I don't regret one thing that I did. I loved on them both until the day they died.
My grandfather passed away 2 weeks after their 67th wedding anniversary and grandma couldn't be without him. She died 1 week after what would have been their 68th.
It probably wouldn't hurt his feeling to tell him to relax and that you love him. Knowing that sometimes makes it easier.
I was moved and reminded of a wonderful time in my life.

Bonnie Moldenhauer

What an honest post. Thanks for being so beautifully transparent. And, thanks for teaching your young boys how to respect, love, and care for elderly family members. Our society gives the opposite message. That's a life lesson not taught in any classroom!

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