Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Old People

My grandma, my mom's mom, will be joining us for Thanksgiving this year. She and my grandpa live near Chicago in a condo near the home of my aunt. My aunt and uncle convinced them to move to Chicago back when Grandpa retired from the ministry. And while Grandma and Grandpa were in good health and while aunt and uncle were in the midst of careers and raising kids, it all went together nicely. Now, aunt and uncle are retiring from the medical field. Plans are to move to another state- a colder and more northern state. That will happen within the next year or so, I think. But the immediate issue is Thanksgiving. Aunt and uncle are taking an extended vacation to somewhere tropical- with no one available to care for the grandparents in Chicago. Sidebar- the rest of the siblings are scattered. My mom is in Cincinnati, her sister is in KY, another sister is in San Francisco, her brother in another part of northern CA. For years, my mom has been wanting my grandparents to live in Cincinnati. Until recently, mom's brother also lived in Cincy so there would have been 3 siblings within an hour or so of each other, all available to help care for my grandparents. Enough history. If I keep going, it will get really complicated. So while aunt and uncle are on tropical vacation, there is concern about Grandma and Grandpa being left alone. It is believed that Grandpa can pretty well take care of himself. Taking care of Grandma is the challenge. Her health is failing her. Quickly. My parents are going to great lengths to convert the house for her 2 weeks stay. They are converting the dining room into a bedroom so that Grandma won't have to deal with stairs. They are having a wheelchair ramp installed. And other things... but they are changing the house to make this work. My mom is facing the death of her mother... wants me to "take notes" so I know how to care for her when the times comes. I'm not prepared to think about that. So here is where I need you, gentle readers. My mom suggested finding a way to prepare my daughter for being around my Grandma. She is now an old person in failing health. She is frail, she is in a wheelchair. She looks different from other people. She is lacking energy. I've been looking for children's books that explain aging and that might even help prepare for passing. But I've not come up with anything- at least not on! For parents- Have you had your kids interacting with old people? How have they handled the difference? Have you come across concerns from your kids? For everyone- What memories do you have of old people in your childhood? I remember going to visit my mom's paternal grandmother and grandfather in the nursing home every week. Great Grandmama had been struck by several severe strokes and all I remember of her was that I couldn't understand anything she said and she seemed to always be miserable. I was scared of her. Great Grandpa, on the other hand, was my respite in that nursing home. He was in the men's wing and when I came in, he always had candy for me. And I remember his sweater, for some reason. I was around age 4-5, maybe 6 for their lifetimes.
And I have to admit... I am scared, too. The picture below is my Grandma with Teagan about 2 years ago. This is how I want to remember her. Smiling. Full of joy. I am scared to see her faltering, sick, tired. I don't want her to suffer. She was a very important part of my childhood. I've told my mom that she has huge expectations to achieve in my mind... so far, she is doing wonderfully. But it scares me to think that the memories of my Grandma may end up clouded by the vision of a frail, sickly, struggling old woman. I'm hoping that she still has her smile and her laugh.


mimbles said...

My kids have been fortunate enough to know 3 of their great grandmothers. My Nana died when the kids were too young to really understand though I think they have vague memories of visiting her at the nursing home. Hubby's Grandma is in pretty good physical health but her mind isn't too sharp and we don't see her often (maybe once or twice a year). My Grandma lives close by and although fairly frail her mind is still going strong. Today is her 98th birthday.

We visit Great Grandma as often as we can, when she was in hospital earlier this year and we weren't sure she'd be coming out again we all showed up to sit with her and tell her what we'd been up to. My daughter sat on the edge of her bed and stroked her hair. The kids know about how skin gets thin and fragile as people get older and that they have to be especially careful of Great Grandma's legs.

We've also had to deal with my father-in-law's death from bowel cancer, I think my oldest was 6 at the time, and my father being hospitalised with severe depression. We would visit and spend time with them whenever we could, often with the kids.

I guess I've just taken the approach that illness and aging are a natural part of life. I try to take a fairly matter of fact approach and explain what is happening in terms the kids can understand (my Dad's bipolar disorder presented a bit of a challenge!).

Don't be afraid that your memories of your Grandma might be affected by seeing her now, the good things stay with us as bright and fresh as ever, you can share those memories with your daughter, show her the photos, tell her stories of your grandma's life. Your daughter may be wary of her Great Grandma to begin with but I'm sure it won't take long for her to adjust. Kids are flexible like that.

*hugs* I hope it all goes well, this stuff is hard, remember to look after yourself too.

Beth said...

My daughters (age 7 and 5) haven't been around the elderly much. But they were recently. I explained to them this way:

When we are babies, we are somewhat fragile and delicate. Then, we grow and get strong. Well, as we get older, we become sort of like babies again - much more fragile and delicate. We need to remember that the elderly have been around a long time and their bodies may be "wearing out" - they aren't as strong, don't hear or see well, get tired easily, etc.

My girls seemed to understand this and were just as caring and sweet and nurturing as they've ever been. I think they now love the elderly even more than they love babies - :)