When my kids were tiniest I was an honorary member of the Sandwich
Generation. My Mother and I shared caretaking responsibilities for my
Grandmother. With a toddler in my hand and a baby on my hip, I was up all night. It wasn’t the kids keeping me up. I am
proud of my husband for teaching both to sleep through the night with
such efficacy. Oh, make no mistake, it was the sexiest thing that man
could’ve done. Sadly, it did nothing to quash the tide of phone calls
that came from Emergency Rooms and LVNs. They all started with, “Your
Grandmother says…” and her very broken internal policeman had let out
a hateful stream of words that ladies never say.
I would dress myself in the middle of the night, bring the emergency
chocolates and the emergency cash. I’d land at Cedars Sinai, plunk the
box of chocolate down in front of the Nursing Station with a smile on
my face and tears threatening the corners of my eyes. The box said so
much. She’s not just a crazy old lady, there are people that love her.
She’s not just a crazy old lady, there are people who are watching you.
Okay, maybe she is a crazy old lady, but we love her. Please don’t abuse my Grandmother, I understand it’s difficult.
It said all of that with no words, I know it did.
Still, the cash said more. You see, in my family we have a deal. If you can’t walk yourself to the bathroom (or nurses station) you won’t be in the hospital alone. Staying and helping one night is fine, two is difficult, but the third night could crush a marriage. My Mother, Aunt and I all agreed that we’d hire people to do whatever care taking we couldn’t manage, and that no one wanted to be left money. We needed our lives. Now. We hired women who would care for my Grandmother from ten at night until the early morning. We bought a night with our husbands, we purchased a night at home for about the same price as a decent hotel room.
My Grandmother was a child of the Great Depression. She had saved an inordinate sum of money from her tiny teacher’s salary. Her daughters could have looked at it as a windfall. I’m grateful every day that they didn’t.
Six Years and Seven Figures is what we spent to keep my Grandmother safe. There were few luxuries as she wasn’t a woman that wanted or needed them. There were ’round the clock caretakers to whom I’ll be forever grateful. There was never a bedsore nor a day without a little lipstick. I never had to see my Grandmother nude, it was important to us all that we maintain that last boundary. My Grandmother was gifted her dignity, and my job was reduced to daily visits, doctors appointments and emergencies. Of course there were emergencies. There were many emergencies.
There was breast cancer and broken hips. There was senility and bad language. She had colitis and forgot she’d quit smoking, she also forgot to mind her manners. There was diabetes, which she thought was a conspiracy. There were Great Grandchildren and weddings. There were four generations of women on Mother’s Day for quite a few years. There were lost dentures and leaks. There were rides in convertibles and in Jeeps, she loved to shock people. There were stories of the Lower East Side, of marching with Martin Luther King Jr., of working for the FBI and of the time we kidnapped her and brought her to Los Angeles.
The night my Grandmother died I took all the telephones out of the bedrooms. When I went to sleep, it was a hard sleep and uninterrupted for the first time in many years. It’s been over six years now, and I still won’t allow a telephone in my bedroom. I won’t be woken up in the middle of the night.
When I think of my childrens’ infancies, I always think of caring for my Grandmother too. At the time, it didn’t seem like a burden. It just seemed a little more tiring. Alexander learned to walk while holding onto my Grandmother’s walker and Jane went to Mommy and Me with her. I’ll never have to tell my children how to care for me, or for their Grandparents, we’ve simply shown them. I’m a little young to have been a part of The Sandwich Generation. Some of my neighbors and friends have begun taking care of their parents. I know how exhausting it can be. I have felt how daunting the tasks are. I have a taste of what’s in front of me with my own parents.
Do you want to know something?
Those years were magnificent.