31 July 2006

Getting old

Busia, my mom's mom, lived with us for 11 years. She moved in shortly after her 2nd heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery because you just can't live alone in Detroit after all that. Staying with your grandparents for a week in the summer is very different than having one in your house, and Busia was no easy person to live with. She favored my brother, intruded on too many family issues, even told me once that I was going to have "...one God-damned hell of a life." I was in 7th grade. We did not swear in our house (still have to watch my mouth and not say 'crap' or 'fart' too much around mom). But despite all this, Busia, with her heart disease and diabetes and everything, was the very model for growing old. She walked even when it hurt her and she would do laps around her living room instead of the neighborhood because of bad weather. Her diet was meticulous, she was barely medicated for her diabetes as she avoided sugar like the plague, and her heart was so bad, she wasn't supposed to live for more than 2-3 years after moving in with us. Well, she stayed for 11. She finally passed with yet another heart attack, just a little one because there was so much of her heart that had already gone bad. It was Thanksgiving morning, my freshman year of college. But she was at home, in her bed, it was short, sweet, and conclusive.

In contrast, my father's parents are barely living. Oh, they're alive and reasonably well considering, but they aren't living. They are shells of the vibrant people I remember growing up, the ones who cruised the world and rarely had time for us. Even though they lived 45 minutes away (which seems like a forever drive when you're 6), we saw them only 4-5 times a year. Now they are still 45 minutes away, but in a retirement community. They are both diabetic but have no clue, combined with no desire to give up what they like, how to control their diets. They both fell ill this spring, and it's so sad to see them. Their house is filthy, my parents can only do so much, and my grandparents refuse to let them hire someone to come in 2-3 days a week to help out. Grandpa is at least trying to get a little better, and can walk fairly well with his walker and wants to graduate to a cane soon. He might make it. Grandma won't listen to the nurses, and is therefore not healing. It's sad and gross when you sneak out to use the public restroom in the lobby because there's...stuff...in their bathroom you just don't want to have to clean first before going. They no longer can go to church or get out, we sure as hell are never letting grandpa drive again (the car stays so my uncle has something to drive when he comes up from Florida), and most of their few friends have stopped visiting because all they do is complain.

If it's up to me, I'd rather be like Busia. A weird reflection, since for much of my life I couldn't stand her and I know she's part of the reason for things that go on in my head that we're working out in therapy. But as an adult, these things come into new light. I'm thankful this deal with my grandparents has spurred my parents to go out and get long term care insurance. I appreciate them not wanting to be a burden on Tim and I (and Jim and Natalie). I worry about Jim's mom, as I don't think she has the same mindset. I cringe at the thought of her ever living with us, not because she's some awful person, but I saw what Busia did to our family dynamics during some very important years of my and my brother's growing up.

All this is so serious and thought provoking and sad in so many ways. But I love my family, if anything for their warped sense of humor the most. We've all been referring to my grandparents behind their backs as "The Geezers" for the last few years, and I caught my uncle calling them that in their presence this past weekend. They didn't even flinch. The rest of us thought we'd pee our pants trying to hold in the laughter.

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