aaaahhhh youth. The bliss that comes from ignorance. No stress. No worries. (Other than who's your favorite New Kid on the Block, and what color scrunchy am I going to wear in my hair?) Growing up means more independence and more responsibility, which are welcomed; but it also comes with the loss of your innocence as knowledge is gained. You have to put your rose-colored glasses on the shelf and see the world in living color.
As children, most of us preferred to see our parents and grandparents as indestructible and all-knowing. They were living encyclopedias and history books, and no matter what, they could and would do anything for us. Time, however, marches on and takes with it the youthful energy of our parents and gives us the ability to see that they are mere mortals who will eventually succumb to the same fate as the rest of humanity. They will grow old. They will get sick. And, eventually, you will be the one changing their diapers and cooking their three meals a day.
Last week I spent my mornings helping my dad. His new full-time job is caretaker, nurse, pharmacists, cook, janitor, accountant, chauffeur, and general "do boy" for his parents. They are 90 and 89 years old and have had to move into my childhood home with my parents after additions and remodeling to make it handicap accessible. My mother was looking forward to retiring soon, but now...... And I have had to watch my parents age faster than they should while shouldering the burden of caring for the frail and dying, the blind and lame, the stubborn and memory impaired.
My sister and I have also been the open ear on which our parents can vent their frustrations, fears, anxieties, and hurts over the past several months. And with this new responsibility we have been introduced to the other side. The side that knows how manipulative, selfish and vindictive some family members are.... The side that is thankful we never had to borrow money from them..... The side that has to try to balance the wishes of both parents although they contradict one another...... The side that is being driven mad by the once-loved quirks of a family member.... The side of life that gives you gray hair and migraines, ulcers and murderous thoughts.
Despite the stress and often raw nerves that come with this type of role reversal, we are treasuring the time we get to spend with my grandparents..... hearing stories that had not been told.... seeing them enjoy my children.... knowing my children are learning valuable lessons about how families take care of each other..... getting a "head's up" on how my dad could possibly turn out.....
I didn't understand until now how people could feel relief after the death of a family member. But after having to take care of my grandparents for only a few hours a day, and being witness to and a victim of the black-hole that is now consuming the lives of my parents, I know our family will feel a huge weight lift after my grandparents pass. We will miss them. We love them. But we will cry "Freedom!" when they go to be with the Father. And that time can be a joyous time because we know we will see them again. There is hardly a day that goes by when I don't think of 'what Grandmother would say' or 'Granddaddy would love to see my kids do that' or 'Aunt Deloris would be so proud of my daughter'..... but I know they see us and are eagerly waiting for us. And I will soon add Grandma and Papa to that group of people who "I wish were here to witness this...." but in the interim we will keep on making coffee, washing soiled linens, wiping bums, and dolling out meds while laughing at funny stories and how many times I can have the same conversation with Grandma:
"Is Russel at work?"
"Yes, Grandma. It's summertime, and the camp is full."
"Ooooh, I bet you love eating down there. The food is so good. And you don't have to cook or clean......"
"Yes, mam. I am spoiled."
(I lean over, look at my mother and mouth "That's one.")