21 May 2013


For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has answered the question: “How are you today, Gran?” with, “Oh, the same – old and decrepit.” I still giggle. She says things like, “Oh, ooh, oh ooooh,” when she gets up and moves slower than the tortoise in the familiar hare race tale. But, at 88, she is doing better than most her age.

I know that as people age, caring for their older parents becomes part of life. Our parents took care of us for so long so why shouldn’t we return the favor? In some cultures, like those in the East, caring for parents is more than expected – neglecting parents is absolutely illegal.

In America, I am noticing, people fall into one of three categories: those who do whatever they can to the best of their ability to ensure that the old ones have everything they possibly need in a convenient manner, those who turn a blind eye and just assume the elders will manage or die trying and those who just force the ancients into a home where they become someone else’s responsibility. To be clear, I am the first.

It’s funny, though. I always assumed I would help my mom take care of my grandmother and then, years later, it would be my turn. Instead, I am learning that at my age of 30, I am taking care of all of them at the same time – and it’s hilarious.

Just before I arrived in the U.S. in April, my mom, aged 60+, had neck surgery to repair a bone spur. She called me high on morphine to tell me how the surgery went, tried to explain her recovery process and then hung up on me because she didn’t know what she was saying.

Once in town, I gladly became her chauffer, taking her to doctor’s appointments, running errands and coming up with excuses to hang out on a weekday.

In the meantime, I am researching senior housing options in my area so that my grandmother will have a place to live when she finally realizes that she can’t live in the same house anymore. She is currently living in a three-level house where she has lived for several decades. Her bedroom and bathroom are on the top floor, the main living area, kitchen and dining room are on the first floor and the laundry facilities are in the basement.

Until last week, I just assumed she took everything one step at a time. While at her physical therapy screening, I was taken aback when the doctor asked about how she actually transported her laundry. “Oh my gosh! I was always so concerned about the stairs but I never even had a thought about how you carry the laundry.” “Oh, Josh got me those draw-string bags,” she said,” so I just throw them down the stairs.” Awesome. This is not going to work.

Finding senior living options in my small town is not easy, but I am finding more and better options than I originally anticipated. One 55 and older community has everything in one area: they have assisted living, home health care, independent apartments, one-story houses they call villas, a performing arts center, a lake where residents can fish, a craft room, on-site medical care, on-site restaurants, walking paths and tons of outings. My aunt wants to live there.

Speaking of my aunt, she also qualifies for this old and decrepit crowd. A week after my mom regained driving and working privileges, my aunt went in for feet surgery. While I can’t tell you exactly what she had done (though it involved removing cysts, moving a nerve and implanting screws and a metal plate), I can tell you that I will never complain about anything in life ever again. Ever.

I picked up my aunt today to take her to a doctor and was amazed at what I saw: one bulging cast from toes to knee on her left leg, showing only swollen toes, and a swollen right food with an open gash and stitches, one of which had popped open. She hobbled on decades-old crutches as she attempted – against my warnings and cringes – to place her right foot with the open wound into a flip flop.

We hobbled to the doctor and back, picking up a wheel chair on the way home. The wheel chair testing was hilarious. First, the woman in the store just brought out the chair and said, “Here you go.” Thank God I asked if I needed to know anything because I later had to sign a paper stating that I had received training on how to use the thing. Once back at the house, I paraphrased my training as I instructed my aunt.

She swore that the wheel chair would not be an issue but I made her test it out before I left. There were some bumps in the first five feet, moving into the kitchen doorway; she ran over shoes twice in the process. “Are you sure you can fit through there?” I asked as she attempted to maneuver between a hutch and her 20-foot-long wooden table (OK, maybe it’s 10 feet; it’s definitely longer than my husband is tall). “Yeah, it’s fi…” Stuck. I moved the table a foot toward the door.

I watched as she moved into the kitchen, around the island and over toward her sitting room. She rolled around, back and forth, attempting to do some housework and test her reaching abilities. We were now getting somewhere.

“Maybe I will just have[her husband] move some things down here and I will just stay downstairs instead of moving between the upstairs and the downstairs,” she said logically. “Can you sleep on one of these couches?” I asked. “Yeah,” she replied and indicated which of the three that could accommodate tranquil sleep.

“What about the bathroom?” I asked. “Can your wheel chair fit through the doorway?”

“Oh yeah,” she said. “This house was built for this kind of stuff.”

Let me put it to you this way: she only made it into the bathroom because I made her bring her elbows together in front of her while I pushed her through the doorway after readjusting a few times. Pushing herself into the bathroom is not an option.

My friend, Justin, also 30, was recently home to care for his mother after she had some surgery. We connected on a day when I was finishing at one of my mother’s doctor’s appointments.

“Is this really the age when we become our parents’ caretakers?” I asked via text. I just assumed we had a few decades to go before all of this started. Apparently we were wrong. And now I am getting it three-fold. 

1 comment:

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