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.
I woke up on the second day exhausted. Part of my exhaustion was from the travel the day before and sleeping in a bed that wasn't mine. But I think most of it was from the shock of the seriousness of the situation and the worry for the responsibility that rested on my shoulders.
Before I could get out of bed, a friend back home in Omaha texted me to see if she could take the kids for an evening to give my husband a break while I was gone. I politely declined on his behalf. It’s my job to make sure the schedule runs smoothly, to make sure they have easy meals, clean clothes, and can survive while I’m gone. If I allowed a friend to step in and help, that would be admitting I can’t do it all. That would be admitting defeat.
I sleepily made my way to the living room and let Molly, my grandparent’s dog, outside. Once I had my coffee, I joined her outside. It was a beautiful morning, but already too warm. For the next 30 minutes, I watered the many plants that bordered the backyard. New trees were recently planted, and they weren't enjoying the late summer heat and blazing sun. I commented to myself that they were beginning to look a bit wilted like my grandparents.
I looked at the dog, “Let’s see if we can’t keep all the wilting things around here alive this week, okay, Molly.”
I resisted going back inside. Part of me knew that real life would begin when I opened the door. It would be a day full of meeting the army of doctors, managing expectations, updating the rest of family, and lord knows what else.
Over breakfast, Grandma mentioned the printer wasn't working. I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m a computer genius, so I did my best to not let her down. After Googling a few things, hitting 42 buttons in 27 different sequences, I was about to give up, and I was sure she had lost all hope in my abilities to help. Then I wiggled the power cord. That’s all it took. The power cord was loose.
I felt victorious and for a split second I thought if I could just find Grandpa’s power cord, maybe I could wiggle it and fix him too.
We packed up and headed to the hospital. It is truly amazing how much stuff you need to carry with you when spending hours visiting someone in the hospital. The list of things we couldn't forget:
Once we finally arrived at the hospital, it was time for me to meet all the doctors and hear their recommendations. I practically needed to graph the timelines for procedures and hire an interpreter to be able to evaluate the risk versus benefit and understand what made sense. I questioned my role. Should I just be there to lend support, or is someone expecting me to help make meaningful decisions with more than a cross-your-fingers-and-hope-it’s-right reasoning?
Why does self-doubt play such a big role in caregiving? It pops its ugly head up when I’m caring for my children, and now again when I’m caring for my grandparents.
Speaking of children, this also happened to be the day I dropped the ball at home – the home nearly 700 miles away that didn't stop needing me. I spent hours that day playing phone tag with schools, daycare, and my husband.
I juggled the phone calls as I drove back to the house to let the dog out, check for messages and get the mail. Of course I hit school traffic on my way back to the hospital making my trip excruciating slow and long. I couldn't help but think that something horrible would happen while I was driving 20 miles per hour through the four different school zones I had to drive through. I made a mental note to find a route that didn't include school zones. And then I let out heavy sigh at my growing to-do list.
Not long after my return, it was clear my grandmother was tired. We ordered dinner for my grandfather and made our way home where we would enjoy cornbread with red beans and rice - Grandpa's favorite. I felt horrible eating his favorite meal while he was choking down hospital food. Our conversation was lively as Grandma told me family stories. This is what I was hoping would happen, a chance to learn more about this side of my family. After dinner, I cleared the table and we headed into the family room to watch Grandma's shows. Within 45 minutes she was asleep in her recliner. I gently nudged her awake and told her to go to bed.
"You're bossy just like your mama," she told me in a sleepy voice. I asked where she think it started, and she just smiled as she shuffled to bed.
Twenty minutes later my day ended just as it had begun – with me in bed exhausted. I picked up my phone and texted my friend back.
“Is the offer to take the kids for an evening still on the table? Our kids should have one sane parent at the end of the week.”
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