letting in the light
I spent the last two days at the coast with Kit and my 93 year old grandmother. It’s been a long time since my grandma has been to her beach house, and even longer since we have spent 36 hours alone together. Being with the two of them was a real joy for me.
The last couple of years have been a time of real transition for my grandma. She has gone from living on her own in her apartment of the last 35 years and driving herself around to living in independent living without a car and learning to rely on others for her transportation. Her partner of the last 38 years moved from his 3 acres to an apartment across the hall. It was a necessary move for both of them, but it has been difficult. He has been on a slow decline healthwise that is accelerating and requiring more changes – home health aides, delivered meals, and less independent living with my grandma. She has worked so hard to care for him as he has declined. It’s hard for her to let go and trust that other people can do as well. That they have his and her best interests at heart. They both desperately wish that they could turn back the hands on the clock. That things would be how they were ten years ago.
So I took her to the beach, which is her happy place as well as mine. There needed to be some space for his sons to set up care and have evaluations done without her speaking for him, protecting him from what they both see as an encroachment on their life. In trying to protect him, she’s preventing him from getting the care that will make both of their lives fuller at the end, free to enjoy one another’s company without worry. She went to the beach resentfully, sure that she wouldn’t enjoy herself because she’d be worried about what was going on at home without her. As we drove up the coastline, I watched her features relax. We went to the nearby chowder place and watched the ocean while we ate and chatted. The building has been remodeled, but the food is the same (and comforting in its mediocrity). She powered right up the stairs to the cabin and took in our updates and maintenance. The new sectional met with her approval, but she hated that I had taken down the window valances to let in the light. “It should be more cozy,” she said. Noted.
She sat on the new couch and watched me putter around – changing sheets, replacing the tablecloth, putting away food – and commented that I never sit down. I replied that she never used to either when she was my age. I must have learned it from her. Those two days were spent with me serving her the way she has served me. Eventually she accepted it. She asked for what she needed and told me what she wanted to do without embarrassment. A shift happened – a generational handing down of responsibility. A letting go. Some acceptance. On the drive home, she said “I had a much nicer time than I thought I would. Thank you.”
I have no delusions that this is the end of their fight against aging or a real release of control. And it shouldn’t be. The day she gives up control is the day she gives up. But I think we came to a place of understanding that I’m there, and her children are there, to support and help her live a happy and comfortable life. That it’s time to pass the generational torch and let us care for her in the way that she has cared for us for all of these years. And maybe she’ll forget about those valances. I’d rather let in the light.