Middle age often goes hand in hand with aging parents and, if we are lucky, aging grandparents as well. Watching our loved ones grow old can sometimes be difficult to accept. While we want them to reach a ripe old age, sometimes this can come with a price.
A little over a year ago, life changed for my 91-year-old grandmother, as well as for me and the rest of my family. Until she reached the age of 89, she was able to live on her own, with light assistance from caregivers and home helpers. I would brag to my friends about my amazing grandmother, and how independent she was. But after a series of strokes made it impossible for her to continue living alone, or be cared for by her family, she was left with no choice but to do the one thing she had dreaded her entire life – go to live in a nursing home.
These days, the new normal of mine and my families’ lives now includes weekly visits to the nursing home, a majority of which is spent trying to make my grandmother a little bit happier by meeting her requests and needs.
As frustrating as the visits sometimes are for us, it pales in comparison to what my grandmother has to go through. The strokes not only left her immobile, but also barely able to speak. As she can no longer use her hands to do anything for herself, including writing, communication has become extremely difficult, not only for her, but for her family and friends as well.
I’ve got to hand it to her, though. Despite the strokes, her mind is still just as sharp as it always has been. Rather than just give up and spend her days in silence, she remains determined to get her points and wishes across. It is a far cry from the phone calls we used to enjoy over our respective morning coffees, but it will have to do.
No matter what anyone says, moving into a nursing home is simultaneous with surrendering one’s dignity. It is no wonder many seniors’ residents are in a perpetual state of unhappiness.
Besides all of the other unpleasantries that go along with aging and living in a nursing home, one of the worst can be loneliness. Most of these people cannot get up and take themselves out the way they used to do. They are dependent upon others to do even the simplest things for them – and especially to come to visit.
It takes a special person to work in a seniors’ home. Many caregivers are wonderful with the elderly, but they do not replace family. Also, Personal Support Workers are only human: there are days when they grow impatient, and forget that they too may be in that position one day when they are elderly. Without family back-up or extra, paid companionship, many elderly people living in homes are neglected, purely at the mercy of the staff and their moods on any given day.
Studies show that elderly people exhibit signs of improved health and fewer symptoms of depression when they are stimulated by visits from loved ones. “Notwithstanding the reality of your over-hectic life, the importance of paying visits to an aged or ailing parent cannot be stressed enough.”
When visiting my grandmother, I see some people who never have visitors, no matter what day of the week I am there. I see the longing looks in their eyes; some of them smile at me, or even, in some cases, strike up conversations with me.
Families need to take an active, involved role to ensure the wellbeing of an elderly parent or grandparent. It is helpful, if possible, for the elder relative to live in a residence not too far from his or her family. “… one of the most important is the proximity of the facility to those of you who will be involved in ongoing care and visiting.”
Sadly, since moving to the nursing home my grandmother has said many times that she wants to die. I know in a way she means it, but I think the fact that she knows there are people who still care about her, and that she still matters to our lives, makes her push on to keep going, even if some days she feels more like throwing in the towel.
The moment we arrive her face lights up. When we are about to say our goodbyes, she always finds a reason to delay our departure. For her, and for countless others like her, the overwhelming sense of loneliness is only briefly forgotten during our visits.
I confess that sometimes I have moments when I wonder how my grandmother could put us through some of the things she does, but for the first time in her life, she has had to become a bit selfish. She no longer concerns herself with our time or stress. I guess she’s earned it, since for most of her life she put others and their needs and feelings ahead of her own.
One day I won’t be lucky enough to have my grandmother to visit, and I know when that time comes I will miss her terribly. The truth is, though, I already miss the grandmother I used to have, the independence I so admired, and all the fun things we used to do together.
However, this wonderful woman has loved me for 48 years, unconditionally and without judgment. She has been one of my greatest confidants and truest friends, and underneath it all, that same person is still in there somewhere.
It is important for me to remind myself occasionally about the woman I know my grandmother really is and how she was for most of her life. For as long as I am fortunate enough to have her to visit, I intend to see her as often as I can, no matter how hard it sometimes is. After all, it’s the least I could do for a friend.
Andrea Freedman’s grandmother died on March 26, 2015. Andrea is grateful for the time she shared with her grandmother, before and after she moved to her nursing home.