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Day 1 of the Journey

 

This post is part of a series about my experience leaving my life behind to care for my grandparents for a week. You can read the first post here.  

 

As I headed to the airport, I worried I had gotten myself into something I couldn’t handle. I worried that my daughter who was being surly would give her dad a hard time while I was gone.

“I need you two to make up and show me everything is okay before I get out of this car,” I pleaded. “I can’t be worrying about you while I’m down there helping Grandma and Grandpa. So let’s get on with it. Make nice or I’m not getting out of this car.”

They acquiesced half-heartedly, and realizing that was going to have to do, I blew kisses and headed for my gate. I brought a book with me hoping I could get some good reading in throughout the week. And not to ruin the rest of the story, but once I closed that book upon landing, it never opened again.

Once I landed, I called my aunt who was to pick me up at the airport.

She answered the phone delightfully as she usually does, but once she realized she had forgotten me, the cheer was erased. Her screechy, high-pitched cry made it impossible to understand anything she was saying. Apparently this was the howl of the overworked, beyond-stressed family caregiver. I assured her everything was fine, and I would see her when she was able to get to the airport.

The time waiting was just enough to consider heading back into the airport to board a plane going back home. But then I heard her cry. This woman, the only one in the family who lived near my ailing grandparents, needed a break, and she needed it now. So I pushed away the temptation to flee with my sanity in tack.

Once I made it to my grandparents’ side, I was struck by how old they had become. My grandmother had long since given up coloring her hair. Now she splurged on pedicures, because bending over that far was too much work. My grandfather had been hospitalized, and was looking thin and frail. I tried to hide my surprise.

And then it was time to stuff my emotions deep and get to work. I wrote my name and phone number on the grease board in the hospital. I found his nurse and instructed her that I was to be contacted when each doctor made rounds. I asked her to give me a summary of events since he was first hospitalized, and I took meticulous notes.

I dug out the detailed notes my mother who had been there a week earlier left and began prioritizing my to-do list. I wasn’t sure how I would accomplish everything on the list. And then when I thought my head my literally explode, something magical happened.

I looked up from my mile-long list and saw my grandmother shaving the love of her life. Her motions were slow and calculated, and she hummed a little as she moved down his chin. It was the most peaceful I had seen him as he felt his cheeks, checking her work and smiling. After 55 years of marriage, they were still madly in love and devoted to one another.

All of a sudden, that to-do list was not only, doable, it seemed like a walk in the park. If they could manage to stay in love for more than half a century, then surely I could manage a week of care for the two of them.

I was starting to feel better about my decision to leave my life behind for a week to help my aging grandparents. But I also knew this was only the first day and there would certainly be more doubt and worry in the days to come.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. October 19, 2013 at 4:58 pm | Posted by Christine Flacks

    As a nurse for Home Instead, I see these wonderful family caregivers every day. Cat, you are so wise to look at those moments when you are able to see the love and devotion your grandparents share. Being able to enjoy and cherish those moments can turn caregiving from a chore to a moment of grace. I am looking forward to more installments of your story

    Reply

  2. October 3, 2013 at 10:56 pm | Posted by Debbie

    Hi Cat, It was very touching to me to read your feelings. I too, have been a caregiver for both of my parents. My mother passed away first and then my father had an aortic aneurysm that put him in intensive care for 6 months. Hospitalization stay was 1 year and 3 months. He was 76 years old. The doctors initially told us that he wouldn't even survive the surgery to fix the aneurysm, but he did cause my Dad was a man's man as I'm sure your grandfather is from the same era. After his hospitalization, he came to live with me and my family. He needed constant care as he had lost part of his foot due to the injury. We treasure the time that he was with us. He passed away 9 years later. My husband still tells everyone that my Dad was his best friend. Take this time with your grandparents to listen and try to get to know as much about them as possible while you are there with them. You will learn a tremendous amount about Life & Love

    Reply

  3. September 30, 2013 at 12:16 am | Posted by Brenda Campbell

    Yes, that was very nice of you to help for a week but many caregivers do this months and years on end. It is a lonely and depressing job. It will wreck you financially and cause chaos in your marriage. BEWARE!

    Reply

    • October 1, 2013 at 8:57 am | Posted by Cat Koehler

      Trust me, Brenda, I have no delusion that what I am doing is comparable to what many family caregivers do on a 24/7 basis for years and years. My hope is that by sharing my story of just a week, other caregivers will recognize that they need to get help whether it be from other family members or from a professional caregiver. Thank you for your advice, it's important that others see it. Cat Koehler

      Reply

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