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Off the top

A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

My amazing grandmothers

My grandmothers are remarkable women. Nonagenarians both, they are sound of mind if not of memory, and strong in constitution if not of body. My father’s mother has endured a broken hip (and bungled hip repair that sentenced her to a wheelchair), multiple strokes and double pneumonia, yet she's recovered, and maintained her sense of humor as well. My aunt helps care for her (in a retirement home) by assisting with her meals and making sure she gets proper care. The strokes have taken away most of my grandma’s use of her hands as well as her speech, but her spirit remains undaunted. Her strength is a great inspiration to me. I am very thankful that she has my aunt by her side.

I had the pleasure of visiting these wonderful ladies this past week.

A relatively young woman in a condition similar to Terri Schiavo’s lives in the same home as the grandmother I just mentioned. Apparently she suffered an aneurysm during childbirth. I passed her several times but never saw her awake. She appeared flushed (or else had some sort of skin condition), and I noticed that she drooled. My aunt told me that there’s been a bit of controversy regarding her “care.” I didn’t get a sense that she wasn’t a person, though, as I passed close by her and paused briefly to observe. She was living and breathing. She had a presence. Perhaps not of mind, but of something –- maybe life.

My mother’s mother is 97. She is wonderful! Not as quick as she once was and lacking in short-term memory, but still great fun to chat with. She sits and thinks about what we tell her, asking questions and making comments. She even laughs at my goofy jokes :-) She enjoyed all the kids’ antics and watched them attentively. She receives very good care in a top-level home, yet still I was saddened that I do not live closer so as to visit more often.

My grandmother does not actively seek out conversation yet interacts willingly when spoken to. She is similar to many of her fellow residents. It saddened me to see her and so many others just sitting around, dozing, or parked in front of the television. They need people (besides their fellow residents and nurses) to engage them and spend time with them!

I felt especially bad for one intelligent-looking gentleman who was able to walk unassisted. He didn’t seem to be as old as most of the other residents. This gentleman, no doubt quite handsome in his younger days, was well-spoken and socially adept. Thrilled to see me and the children, he said, anxiously, “I don’t know why I’m here....I feel so out of place. I don’t know anyone”...etc. He’s probably been there for years. His manner was restless; he looked around, looked at the newspaper, got up and wandered around, etc., over and over. He appeared to be both puzzled and in search of engaging conversation. I learned that he had been a teacher. But now he wanders the retirement home, perpetually confused.

The other thing that struck me was that the aides and nurses are continually running to serve the residents, clean up spills, give medicine, keep residents from getting up out of their wheelchairs, take residents to the bathroom, etc. etc. One very nice and patient nurse saw me taking my 3-year-old daughter to the bathroom for the umpteenth time and said, “You’ve covered that hallway as much as we have!” Later, as she whizzed by for the umpteenth time to try to keep one resident from pushing another around (in a wheelchair), she whispered, “Tomorrow’s my day off!”

It’s true – in the twilight of our lives, we need as much care as in the dawn of our lives. Which caused me to reflect that, yes, caring for our fellow humans – our flesh and blood – during both of these times of life is demanding, vexing, and exhausting. It’s not so easy during the prime of life either. But it’s necessary, and noble, and beautiful. Those elderly individuals – those unwieldy, stubborn, deluded folks who are incapable of learning or of helping themselves – are the ones from whom the rest of us have come, and have learned. If it weren’t for my grandmothers there’d be no me. Not so profound, I realize, yet it is. I am in awe, and I am grateful, and I cherish these two women to pieces.

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the kids and me with their maternal great-grandmother


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