Writer Liz Sandoval Reflects on Caring for Aging Grandparents
My grandparents have been married for more than three quarters of a century. Since Grandma was 15 and Grandpa was 19. They are now Dementia and Diapers, respectively. Most days these days, Grandma forgets if she's eaten and so she sometimes doubles up on some meals or snacks. And Grandpa, like a koala bear, sleeps about 20 hours a day. Grandma appears to be strong as a horse, albeit a small horse, as she is about 5 foot 3. Grandpa, quite emaciated, is even shorter. Grandma watches TV for much of the day, or just sits and thinks. Probably about who's stolen her jewelry on this particular day. Grandpa pretends to watch TV, but can't fight back the sleepiness as he nods off on the sofa or sometimes in his wheelchair. Their great joy for the day probably comes from meal times, where my mom surprises them with Huevos Rancheros or maybe a sandwich from Subway or a Filet-o-fish from McDonald's. This will satiate them until the next day, when they will again follow the routine of blood sugar testing and bathing and eating and sleeping...and existing.
It's a tough job being 95, I imagine. I imagine that one's spirit is continually taxed. When you transition from being angered that your legs won't move when your bladder calls to being mortified that your daughter has to change you like a baby to just lying there stoically as you're being changed. Maybe reflecting on better days, or imagining better days ahead.
I'm not the one changing the diapers and pricking the fingers and doling out the pills, but it is an energy that transcends even the miles between us. It is taxing to wait. And to wonder.
When the phone rings in its happy tune, and the screen reads Mom and Dad, my heart stops.
"Hello?" I say with an inflection that starts at about a middle C and rises easily an octave.
If my mom isn't crying, I realize this isn't the call.
I don't know when The Call will arrive. Sometimes I think this will all kill my mom first. The diaper-changing, the bed linen changing and discarding, the removing of the stove knobs because Grandma sometimes decides to turn on the stove burners in the middle of the night to warm up the place. People tell my mom she looks tired.
All of this makes me think that I'd like to cash in my chips around 70.
I always think, If we don't ask to be born, then how come we can't dictate when we die? Doesn't it all seem at least a bit cruel?
And what is it that takes us in the end? I know it's either the heart. "Cardiac" something or other. Or pneumonia. Or the dreaded C word. Or an accident of some sort.
But I think what finally takes us is when we no longer care. The Bible says that "hope deferred makes the heart sick." And I think that when the day comes that you're no longer hopeful that the grandkids or the great grandkids will visit-- or that you're getting a Subway sandwich or a Filet-of-Fish, that THIS is when someone gets The Call.
I know it's coming. And that it'll be a relief for the parties involved. But it's the one day that I know I'll hate the sound of my mom's voice.
"Hello?" I'll say, waiting.
And then I'll just know.