Thursday, September 27, 2012


Do you ever look back on something that you once saw as a difficulty, an impediment, only to realize that it was probably a stroke of mercy?

Yesterday, one of my visiting teachers came over.  Her companion wasn't able to make it, so she brought her 91-year-old mom with her, a slight woman with a bright smile and the most spectacularly blue eyes I've ever seen.  As I watched them make their way to the car, this sister pointing out the small step down directly out our front door, and then shadowing her mother closely across the sidewalk, much as a parent would with a newly-walking toddler, I thought of my grandma.  She would've been 96 if she were alive.

When she was near the end and failing rapidly, my mom and my aunt and my sister were each taking turns spending a day or two or week at her house, helping her to care for herself so that she could remain in her own home.  I was 1500 miles away, unable to be of any real assistance at all.  I felt helpless, and guilty that I was not there to care for this woman who gave so much loving, patient attention, so many years of it, to caring for me.  When my mom went to work, my brother and I weren't shuttled to day care;  we spent our days with Grandma.  We spent many of our nights with her, too: when we were very young, she'd have us both snuggle up with her in her little full-size bed and she would turn on her little bedroom TV.  Yes, we'd watch TV--in bed!!  I remember begging my mom to let us stay the night at her house--I don't remember ever feeling that there was any real threat of being denied that opportunity, but we really loved being there.  We loved being with her.  I felt awful that I was denied this opportunity to return a bit of the service she had always happily extended to me.

I was talking to my sister about it a few months ago, and she said that the experience changed her perspective on caring for aging loved ones at home.  She had been the last one to stay with Grandma, and had gone in optimistically--and still treasures having had that time--thinking, "Oh, this will be great, spending time with my Grandma and my baby" (her oldest was a very young infant at the time).  After a couple of days, she realized she couldn't do it, and told my mom as much.  She realized, in the midst of helping Grandma get dressed and fed and to and from the bathroom, she wasn't ready for the the role reversal.  Emotionally, she wasn't prepared to be the one being the primary caregiver for this woman who had, in our lifetimes, always been a pridefully independent woman and powerful matriarch.  Having just gotten married and had her first baby, my sister suddenly realized that while she was very much an adult, she didn't feel like one, or at least feel ready to be one.  She helped Grandma clean herself up, both of them trying to be good-natured about it and pretend it wasn't a big deal.  But it was a big deal--part of her was still unready for this transition in life, and the coming loss implicit in it.  Emotionally, the reaction of "No! You're supposed to take care of me!" was still there.  Not in a selfish, I-don't-want-to-help kind of way, simply in a life-got-too-real-too-fast kind of way.

I wasn't ready for that.  I've always known that, but I was finally able to fully admit it to myself without guilt.  I was suddenly very grateful that, though I would've loved to seen my Grandma one more time when she was still present enough for a real conversation, the circumstances in my life at the time kept me far away.  I was only 20 and, though I'd faced other losses, other deaths, this was the first time death had hit me so hard--this woman had been one of my primary caregivers for nearly all of my life at that point.  I was able to make it home to say good-bye, and she was able to respond enough that I knew that she knew I was there, that I had come home to her.  That was enough.  For all that came in those difficult months before those moments, I was not yet ready.  I trust that she knows and understands that, too.

And as I watched Sister Hogge help her elderly mother to the car yesterday, I realized that I'm still not ready.  I think I would be with my Grandma--if my uncle were not able to provide the kind of support he has, having my other Grandma live in his home this last year, I would be perfectly capable of providing plenty of emotional and physical support.  It would have its toll, but I could and would be happy to do it.  But not for my mom.  Not yet.  I am a long ways from that, and I was suddenly very grateful that, though I try not to take anything for granted, I am probably decades from having to worry about it.  My mom is only 60 and is in excellent health.  Because while I have been a mom for nearly a decade now and have four little people I am responsible for and am grateful to be an adult in charge of my own life, I still need my mom.  I still rely on her for so much, and I am so tremendously grateful that she is such a strong and reliable person.  Her personal discipline and tremendous love and generosity are such a boon to my little family.  So many people in life lack that, and I am grateful that I have that kind of mom, and while I try hard to be a good daughter and to serve her and be as generous as my means allow, I'm grateful that it will likely be a good long while before I need to worry about taking care of her the way she has cared for me.  My mother has never hampered my independence, in fact has always been marvelous about nurturing it.  But she has never hesitated to be "the mom" when a mom was what I needed, no matter my age.  Her mother did the same for her, so I'm confident that I'll get there and will be able to serve her the way that she served her mother.

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