I went shopping at Costco yesterday to stock up on some very essential household items. While I was in the huge walk-in freezer section, I came across an elderly lady staring intently at the skim milk pallet in the corner. She was a little bitty thing, wearing dark wraparound shades and peering very closely at the milk as if studying the cartons for signs of disease or whatever. So I walked over and asked her if she wanted to know the expiration date, but she replied that she was looking for a container with no dents on it. LOL!
Anyway, she seemed to be having trouble lifting the gallon jug of low-fat, so I grabbed it for her and asked her if she had a cart. After I placed it in the bin for her, she called me a "dear" and explained that she had a bad shoulder. I told her it was my pleasure, wished her a good day, and carried on with my shopping.
These encounters always remind me of my sweet grandmother, whom I love above all other people in this world. She raised me after my mother died when I was 9, and although she was very lax in the discipline department, she taught me all I know about compassion, caring, and understanding. I am the empathetic fellow some of you know today because of this woman.
I'm always so respectful of elderly folk. My mother doted on her mother, my grandma, while she still lived and taught me these values early. And today, nothing angers me more than people who disrespect or mistreat, harm, embezzle, or otherwise abuse the aged and infirm. What is wrong with these people? My instinct is always to protect and to be extremely patient with old people. How can anyone be mean to a defensive, sometimes sickly, human being? I view anyone who does take advantage of the elderly as cowards, yet this has become one of the most common news items these days. Especially here in New York City, where elderly neglect is a huge problem.
I just don't know where people forget their values. This world, sometimes ... damn!
Anyway, lately I've been thinking a lot about my grandma. I love her so much, yet worry about the care she needs. She's getting very old and more and more unable to take care of herself. Her daughter and son, my aunt and uncle, live slightly over two hours away in opposite directions from the city, yet almost never come to visit their mother anymore. They're good people, don't get me wrong, but just seem unable to deal with the woman who raised them for more than a couple of hours at a time. They complain about the long drive, or otherwise make excuses, but in the end it falls on me to look after her immediate needs, and to be there when she has an emergency. I try to talk my grandma into getting help, or---as much as it pains me to consider it---move into some kind of assisted living home. Naturally she's opposed to this last thought. Although she'll be turning 79 in exactly one month, she insists she can manage on her own. The other day she revealed to me that she had fallen one night and could not get back up. She managed to crawl to the phone and call 911, and told me that the police and nearest fire engine crew had come to her apartment and came in through the front window to help her. When I asked her why she didn't just call me as I live just 2 blocks away, she made the excuse that it had been 2 in the morning and she knew I had to work the next day.
What the hell? I was so mad! But, that's my grandmother for you. She'd rather bother city officials than her own grandson. I explained to her that the only reason I stayed in the same neighborhood after the divorce was so that I could continue to be near her in case something like this happened. I kept my anger to myself, but really it was a mask for the fear I was feeling deep down inside. I know she doesn't have much time on this Earth, especially after her stroke years ago. But I would like her to live her remaining years in some sort of comfort and peace of mind. Her children, however, don't seem to want to bother thinking about the issue. Invariably they assume that whichever one of them does will then be saddled with the responsibility of her care. No one wants to send their mom to a home, after all. This all, in turn, gets me upset. I mean, she's the woman that raised you! Was it such an inconvenience then? How can you turn your back on her now? They claim that she's a difficult woman to have in the same house, which I understand. The relationship between mother and child over the years can sometimes be far more fraught with missteps and harsh temperament than the bond between grandparent and grandchild. I'm told I'm my grandmother's favorite, and she opens up to me more than she ever has or will to her own children. But I can't take care of her on my own.
Family dynamics can be quite the pickle, eh?
My best friend has a remarkable similar experience as I. He, too, was raised by his grandmother. Although his parents are alive, neither one of them wanted much to do with him. So his grandmother took him in and did the best job she could. I'm telling you -- god bless grandmas! But now he tells me that his grandma has stage 4 liver cancer, and has only 3 weeks to live. The doctors recommended sending her to a hospice, but she just wanted to go home.
My poor friend is devastated, and I completely empathize. For us, our grandmas were our only parent. We would not be where were are today were it not for these wonderful women. His grandma and mine used to talk on the phone to compare notes among grandsons (haha!), and they each respected each other for taking the responsibility and hard work that goes into raising boys into respectable men in this day and age.
And now I face the dreaded prospect of preparing for the inevitable. My friend losing his grandma puts me very much in the mindframe of losing my own. I've been consoling my friend as best I can during this time. He's a mess right now, and with good reason. While I've been through the death of my closest loved ones more than once now, this will be the first major loss for him. I wish I could tell him that it gets better, but it doesn't. The best I can tell him is that he has the opportunity to spend some time with her before she departs, and he should do so as much as possible. I tell him to bring his daughters around her these next few weeks, as his grandma loves her great grandkids so much! Fill her last days with joy and family, and don't come around her with long faces and the dark cloud of death hanging over their heads. It won't be easy on him, but it will be nice for his grandmother. Let her not leave this world worried for her family.
These are the things I tell him. But, dear god ... what do I tell myself when the time comes for me? I cannot lose my grandma. The only mother I've had since the loss of my actual one so many years ago. It's conceivable she will still live another 10 years, if not more. But I need to understand that she can go at any time just like my friend's grandmother. And despite all the death I've seen in my lifetime, it never gets any easier. That's the rub.
It never gets easier, folks. It's harder each time. And I just don't know if I can take another loss. Love your elderly, people. Even if your parents were hard on you growing up, cherish them. They may have been imperfect people, but if they loved you throughout your life, then they deserve your love back.
Really, it's as simple as that.