One month out of college, my old bedroom became my grandmother’s. It was the one room on the main level of the house that could be transformed into a bedroom — and it had been recycled many times: my brother’s room, then an office, then my teenage bedroom. When Grandma fell ill, she moved in.
It was a natural move in many ways; most important, perhaps, is that my whole family is in the medical profession. Except for me, the baby of the group, slinking off to the library to read John Updike or Flannery O’Connor. What did I know about injections and hospital corners?
But this time, it was my grandmother Helen. The woman who baked me tinfuls of Scottish shortbread and slipped dollops of cream on top of my cereal. The woman who turned to me, with waist-high children surrounding her, and replied to my eager calls of “Me too, me too!” with a gentle hand under my chin and deep loving look in her eye, “Of course, you too, my little chickadee.”
Here she was in a hospital bed in my old room. She had suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed on the left side of her body, unable to talk or move at will. This feisty Irish matron had become dependent on my mother, brother and sister. I just read books to her.
Months later, during one of my regular check ins, my brother met me on the porch and said, “You need to decide if you want to go in or not.”
She died, he told me, just moments before and was at peace. Since I had missed saying a proper farewell to my beloved grandfather only months earlier, I summoned the courage this time and entered the house. I told her things I had meant to say much sooner than this.
Our family was fortunate, because we had space to take her in, people who were comfortable with medicine and the fragile human body, and resources to provide for her. Months or years, I think we would have been able to adjust to care for her. I like to think so, anyway.
Not so for everyone. If something happened to my mother now, would I be able to take her in and handle her care, the bills, the paperwork and all the great unknowns? I don’t know. And it’s terrifying. I think, like so many of us, I most fear being overwhelmed.
Executive Editor Cristin Marandino and writer Gary Santaniello took on the huge subject of how to care for senior parents. Their piece provides insight on what to do now to make the situation manageable. That way, we can hold the memories of those we love in our hands gently and cherish each one as special.