The Twilight Years

 

I come from a long line of independent, hard working, dedicated women. My great grandmothers lived into their late 80s – early 90s. My paternal grandmother is 93 years old and my maternal grandmother is nearing 90. They are in the last years of her lives – their twilight years.

About two months ago, my paternal grandmother fell and broke her hip. She had been living with my aunt (her daughter) for about two years. This turn of events has catapulted our family into a reality that is filled with stress, fear and tension.

My grandmother is currently in a county nursing home. I was able to visit her two weeks ago and I am so very grateful for the time I had with her as it may be the last opportunity for me to do so. I am the only family member (for three generations) who lives outside of the state of Georgia. I have lived 800 miles away from my family since 1999. While this distance creates a challenge for me when it comes to staying “tuned in” to the day-to-day family happenings, it also have given me some perspective. I am somewhat removed from the details. This distance makes it difficult for me to connect on some levels, but it also allows me to see things from afar – to have some insight that my family members may not have because they are so intimately involved in the drama.

There is a certain level of guilt that I feel because I am not there to contribute to the day-to-day task of caring for my aging family members. So much of the responsibility falls on my mother, my aunts and their significant others.  I see it wearing on them all physically and emotionally. Stress and drama make the situation more difficult and some family members forget that this is the “twilight of life” for my grandparents. These are the final moments in what have been long, productive lives. The day-to-day stress clouds what could and should be a time when my grandparents’ lives then and now should be celebrated and honored.

During my recent visit to GA, I was overwhelmed during my visits with my paternal grandmother. A flood of memories of my childhood with her filled me with a gratitude and love that I hadn’t fully realized until now.  The three days I spent with her were priceless. It was hard to leave her – knowing that this remaining time of her life will likely be spent in a nursing home. Despite her declining mental and physical health, my grandmother still possesses a wicked sense of humor and a desire to be social and connected with those around her. Our visits consisted less of taking a trip down memory lane and more of strolling around the garden with her repetitive comments about the pansies in the flower bed, the two cats that live at the nursing home and which of the room windows was “her room”. Her short-term memory is almost non-existent. That given, the visits allowed me time to just BE with her and comfort her (and me) – knowing that those moments might well be my last with her.

Not everyone handles the “twilight years” of their loved ones the same way. For some there is a sense of self-preservation that prevents them from fully acknowledging and processing the feelings they are having – ultimately keeping them at a distance from loved ones during the very time when they need them most. For others, a sense of duty kicks in and they feel compelled to step away from the emotional part of the process and focus only on how they can meet the physical needs of their loved ones. The toll of caretaking can be brutal. I feel a sense of sadness when I think that some families are missing out on quality emotional time with elders.

There are no perfect families. Perfection is highly overrated. I am filled with a sense of gratitude and humility for all of the imperfect ways my grandparents have supported and instructed me through the years.

One thing that I know to be true and real is that my grandparents paved the way for me to be the woman that I am today.  For this I am eternally grateful.

My TBA readers, I challenge you to reflect upon your memories with grandparents and parents. Look for the lessons learned, the opportunities given and the time well-spent.  I would love to for you to share some of your favorite memories, lessons learned, moments shared with your grandparents.

P.S. I have a GLEE post coming soon, for my fellow TBA Gleeks! I loved the Prom episode and the Brittana storyline is one of my faves.

 

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