I just spend 10 days with various members of my family. I'm still weeding through some of the emotions, because I had a huge realization while I was there.
I'm not the only person getting older.
I remember when my Great-Grandmother was alive. For a long time she and her sister lived with my grandparents. I watched as Uncle George died, then Aunt Dio, then as my Great-Grandmother descended into dementia. I was just a kid, so I don't remember the process of it happening. I can remember my Mom and Grandma having conversations about it. I remember my Grandma laughing at some outrageous claim my Great-Grandma had made. I was indignant... I couldn't believe she was LAUGHING at her. Then my Grandma taught me one of the most important lessons she ever would: sometimes there are situations where you can either laugh or cry. Rather than take her mother-in-law's accusations and recriminations to heart and be saddened by them, she chose to laugh and shake them off. I also remember her sitting in her basement in her nightgown, sobbing, because she was tired... so tired of being the caregiver. I didn't understand it then, but having a small child, I do now. Sometimes you laugh. Sometimes you cry.
On this visit it became clear that my grandparents are old. For years I've been saying that they're "getting" old, but now they've arrived. Once again, I'm not sure when it happened. In my mind, I can still hear Grandma telling me that my Grandfather was the strongest man in the world -- and I believed her. In my mind, they should still be the same vital, energetic people who took all three of their grandchildren to their sailboat every weekend. During this visit I started to notice the tremors, the stumbles.
Then something happened. It didn't happen until after we left and I'm not comfortable going into details here, but something happened that could be The Beginning of The End. I can't even believe I'm typing this.
My grandparents are old. They have become the people who will soon need to be cared for. That will probably fall to my Mom, but she will need the support of my brothers and I, as she supported my grandparents in their caretaking of my Great-Grandmother.
I'm not ready for this. I am selfish. I do not want to have to help in making decisions, in watching the people who helped to raise me slide toward death. I want them to keep helping me. I still feel like a child.
I called my brother to tell him what happened -- partly because what happened involved Sweet Pea and I don't want my nieces, Fabulous and Captivating, to have the same experience when they go to visit. I tried to express to him how it felt, but I couldn't get the words right.
I don't like this particular epiphany. It's one thing to realize that your older relatives are going to die. It's another to realize that there's the strong possibility of messiness beforehand: decisions to be made about caregiving, estates to settle, and the heartbreak of watching two of the people you love most in the world lose their faculties. Please God... let them not linger in that underworld of confusion. I don't want my daughter and my nieces to see what I saw with my Great-Grandmother. But if it does happen... then let my brothers and I come together to support Mom. Let these experiences draw us together, because that's the only way we'll all survive it.
Well, that and being able to laugh instead of cry.