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Knowing your grandparents before it’s too late to ask

12/01/2010
By:

Allison Townsend

Editor in Chief

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I spent some quality time in Providence in an independent toy store, thinking of how long it had been since I even saw one. I looked with my hands and touched every little thing, testing out the toys to see what would be really great for my 2-year-old nephew, Jack, for Christmas.

One of the things I came across was a package of over 100 green cards on a binder ring, entitled “Things to ask your grandparents.” I read through them. What was the biggest lesson you learned while you were in school? What was your favorite candy when you were a kid? What was one of the best memories you had with your parents? What was your greatest accomplishment?

The first thing I could think of was how amazing this little loop of cards was. I wished, then, that I had them when I was a kid. I wish I had asked those questions to my father’s parents before I lost them. And now, at 24, I am wondering if it’s too late to start asking these questions to my mother’s parents.

My 84-year-old grandmother, Elsie, is in stage five renal failure. Her kidneys are giving out. They have been for months and months now, but I got a message from my mom last week that hospice is coming. It’s time.

In the beginning of 2008, my grandfather and grandmother moved into my parents’ house in Ohio, no longer able to live on their own in a two-story condo. Once my grandmother’s health began to go downhill, I could see a frustration in my mom, who so badly wanted to have fun living with her parents again, but whose role as a caretaker made it difficult for her to enjoy the time.

Over the summer, I read an article in Newsweek called “The Caregiving Boomerang,” which spoke about how a lot of baby boomers of today are sending their children off to college and then filling their empty rooms with their parents. The article said that nearly 50 million Americans are taking care of an adult who used to be independent.

I thought of my mom immediately. I called her, in fact, to make sure that she would read the article. I know her initial thoughts of moving her parents to her house were, “How could I not?” I don’t think anyone who loves their parents enough and has the resources wouldn’t take them in. I also don’t think a lot of people realize how selfless it is to become a caretaker, and how much of your own needs and wants you put on hold by doing so.

What I have seen develop, though, is that as the caretaking has become more intense, it has forced my mom to detach, in a sense, from her emotions, in order to focus on the responsibilities at hand. As my boyfriend’s mom Gail, who used to be a nurse, told me, you really can’t take care of someone without removing your emotions from the situation first. It’s a part of being a caretaker for anyone.

But now that my grandmother is becoming too ill for her weekly hospital treatments and nausea is kicking in, it is clear that an alternative means of comfort is the only option. I can see the brakes coming to a screeching halt and I can see that my mom still has a sense of frustration, still desperately wanting to enjoy what little time left she has with her mother.

My sister, Dina, who is a doctor, sent our family an interesting article published in the The New Yorker in August called “Letting Go,” which spoke about what medicine should do when it can’t save your life and you have become terminally ill.

The article was about hospice, mainly. People go to hospitals and see doctors to have their lives saved, not to make them more comfortable to die. Putting my 84-year-old grandmother on dialysis, for example, would not make her more comfortable. We are all confident, my grandmother included, that hospice will be the best way for her to stay at home and keep comfortable.

So now that the holidays are upon us, we are preparing to have our final hurrahs with my grandmother before she goes. And she is ready to go. She is upbeat, has made her final arrangements, and is thrilled to finally meet her maker when she makes her journey up to heaven.

She is ready. But the rest of our family is not. And I’m hoping that with hospice coming to help with the final caretaking, my mom will finally get her chance to enjoy the time that remains with her mom.
And so, with the clock ticking, I know that if I have any and all questions I want to know about my grandmother, Elsie Borovac, and the life she has had – now is the time to ask.

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