I have lived with my grandparents (maternal) who are in their mid 70’s for going on three years now. I have lived full-time with them for two of those years with a year in between to live on campus and go to school, and I will be moving out as of September for good.
And so I have a unique view on the older generation than my own (2 generations older in fact) and while I have never been in the house in the capacity of a ‘carer’ there are two instances in the past year that have pushed that boundary and lead to me write this post.
“Growing old is like being increasingly penalized for a crime you haven’t committed.”
~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Let me preface all this by mentioning that my grandparents have essentially allowed me to live with them rent free while I try to pay my way through university; this alone has them endeared in my heart despite all the…..problems I face within their home. Some of which will be addressed later.
A year ago July my Tad-gi (granddad) went into hospital for open-heart surgery for the second time, planned and prepared for so we were not worried and were prepared for the extra burden having him unable to drive, lift things, etc etc.
As such I, out of school and moved back in with them, picked up the slack of cooking when my Mam-gi (Nanny) couldn’t; I took the recycling and garbage out; I took the bus and did the grocery shopping when we couldn’t get a friend to drive us, or my Mam-gi really couldn’t – for obvious reasons my Tad-gi couldn’t.
Not really a carer, but I picked up more chores than my usual (vacuuming, dishes, bathroom etc etc.)
Now, it was difficult and stressful and more than once I struggled with my temper.
I’d like to preface this again with mentioning that I have an incredibly low temper, it takes an awful lot to rile me, and even more to get me to yell. But I digress.
So I struggled with my temper, with my snapping at them for being unable to do the things that I found normal, and to pertain to the routine. But soon enough my Tad-gi was much better, and things returned to normal; I went back to school.
Then, living in their home again this year instead of on campus I have seen a rather trying transformation that has me despairing about moving out, and also far more ex-tactic to be gone.
“Wherever you are in your journey, take some time out to take stock of where you are standing. Then decide if you are willing to do “Big Things” in order to be where you want to be.”
~ Tab Dangerfield
Over the year my Mam-gi’s health has deteriorated- her walking has become wobbly, her hands are even worse and she finds grabbing things and holding things near impossible most of the time. Add to that her normal issues, she is also suffering from migraines that leave her pained, and unable to see. This has been a slow transition that has been horrid to watch and to experience.
My Tad-gi too has also been getting older, stiffer in the back, sleeping longer and tiring easily. He is nowhere near as poorly as my mam-gi but they feel it as one.
Which leads to the most recent incident. My tad-gi recently came home from inner-ear surgery in an attempt to save his hearing. This means essentially that as with the heart surgery he is limited in what he can do on the daily.
Lifting, walking, cooking, standing, even eating are all limited to his dizzy spells and strain on his head. As such it means that I am picking up the strain again.
The difference this time around however have created within me a hailstorm of strain, anger, resentment and exhaustion. It was a very very hard semester for me and so I entered this two weeks of rest intending to utterly devote time to myself before starting summer school; which obviously I am not getting in full. Another difference is that I can drive this time, with my tad-gi in the car, so that’s a lightened burden at least, since we can do full grocery shops. However, suddenly my Nan needs me to do everything. From cooking to dishes, to getting her and my granddad lunch and coffee and tea.
I have watched them deteriorate, but I had yet to experience it in full given my commuting lifestyle and the drive to sleep as long as possible between classes.
I have struggled with my feelings about all this. In some ways I am ever more grateful for being let in their home without rent and without needing to do much; this time then is my paying it back back. They not only let me live with them, but I drive their car, I use their internet etc etc. I am an expensive house guest.
However I have experienced a new kind of frustration and anger, at people whom I love and it is a struggle. Worse still is that I am angry at things they can’t help. They are older, they have ailments, and all they ask is for me to stop what I’m doing and help them (often and annoyingly right when I’m busiest but still). On top of that is the unsettled feeling in me that comes from being in an unstable home, constantly moving…and the feelings of being unsafe.
They are lovely people. They love their four grandchildren wholeheartedly and without restraint. However they are set in their ideals of beauty and of religion and of how the world should be that do not and never will align with my own.
I am decidedly unstraight not that they know this, but the fear I hold for the day they find out -an inevitability given how much more comfortable I become as the months pass-has me nervous, flighty, and unsociable.
All of which of course leads to their hovering uncertainty and worry about my mental (deteriorating) health and health in general.
Not a good mix and not a healthy place for any people living in one space to be.
I hate that they need me, that I cannot be myself (in my sexuality, or even my ideals of the world; living in a very conservative home when you are more definitively more liberal for example) with the knowledge I have and ‘radical’ idealism makes me angry. I have never been an angry person, but I have basic needs and in his house I am not getting them.
Rousing, open debate where people can walk away as friends is one of them; people and their sexuality being recognized without scoffing and disbelief is another; being with people who are not racist -especially when one of them (my mam-gi) experienced racism all her life as an Indian girl who moved to Wales in her youth – should really just be a norm regardless.
And as September (freedom) draws closer and their need of me increases I become more and more withdrawn, snapping for snapping sake, and more than anything I hate that that is my response to all this stress.
“The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation.”
~Pearl S. Buck
All of the above will either evoke sympathy in you, or the mentality that I am truly the most ungrateful granddaughter to live. Both of which I agree with however, there is more if you’re still reading.
It has been a very difficult year for myself and my studies, and my extended family. However, through this year there has been an incredible shift in my perception of self and of a generation I have nothing in common with bar our Welsh ancestry and love of good tea.
I have learnt here so much. About myself, my tolerances and what it is I need to be happy and healthy, but also about my heritage, my family, and what it means to grow old. Arguably I am not even ‘grown up’ yet but I certainly know what it is to grow old now having experienced this:
- It means watching the world change and not understanding the reasons why, nor seeing the purpose of the change for you are stuck in your own past.
- It means crossing names of family and friends, of bridesmaids and godmothers, of old neighbors and dear shop-keeps from your address book; having still owned an address book.
- It also means being unable to cross that one name out no matter how long has passed since his death, because Eddie changed us all. Myself included.
- It means struggling while you watch your children make decisions that weren’t even in your realm of understanding; and you grandchildren learning things that were kept only for master’s degrees in your time even thought your grandchildren are 13.
- It means scowling at the plate you can’t carry, cup you dropped, kettle that even at half the size of the teapot in your youth is still too heavy for you.
- It also means watching wide-eyed children with no understanding of the wars you’ve seen, of the rebellions, and the closed mines. Knowing they will never know of them. Not unless you tell them, and that is a great honour. Your grandchildren remembering fondly how passionate you are about working in the steelworks and how you miss it in many ways.
“Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.”
~Desiderata (Max Ehrmann 1927)
(Note:This is only an excerpt from what is and will forever by my favourite poem)
And so, I am changed this year, as everyone is changed every year I suppose. However I feel utterly reborn. I have been grown-up for many many years now. I raised my sister at 12, I have experienced much. However I suddenly feel older and also freer to explore myself and my world.
I have developed through this year an interesting coping method for my anger. I follow the frustration down and validate the feelings; my anger, frustration, disappointment, fury, exhaustion. They are all valid and hold valid placement in my heart and my chest, in my stomach and through my bones. I think therefore I am; if I’m feeling it then it is valid. However following this I think of the offending party/situation that has brought me to this point and I think upon their life experiences and cultural differences. Why have they done these things (is it because of character/misunderstanding/cultural/age differences) and I think upon the validity of the kind of emotion i am feeling. Am I really angry or disappointed? Do I want to be mad or tired? I am still valid in feeling but the initial emotion likely (and usually) isn’t what I’m actually feeling nor is it conducive to a good relationship or a productive life.
From there I can cope with whatever I’m really feeling knowing why the other people have acted like they have and whether or not it is something I can confront them about. If not I cope with myself through various methods.
Moving on from that revelation though, I finally see that you cannot dwell on today-on the frustrations of youth and of broken things because one day it might be you who feels so broken. So too I have learnt to listen to the people that speak, even those whose ideas of being a woman, or a child, or a religious figure, or even a person (whom they have no right perhaps to talk about) do not belong in today’s world. Because through them you may learn how to avoid allowing the same kind of people to make the laws, to dictate these things. To better understand where someone with an opposing opinion comes from is to better understand hope to confront and avoid them. But also and beyond that, in between their racist/sexist/homophobic/prejudiced words you will find anecdotes of life, of wars once fought, of emotions once and forever expressed.
“Emotion without reason lets people walk all over you; reason without emotion is a mask for cruelty.”
― Nalini Singh, Archangel’s Kiss
Through their words you will discover a lot about yourself; everyone comes from a different cultural lens, from different life experiences that do not and will never line up with anyone else’s. However if they are to live in this world as you do you will find a Venn-diagram where you can both stand and agree that yes: you are from a new generation that will never understand nor accept the things you perceptive as ‘mistakes of the past’ but you appreciate their knowledge of the world, that they can’t make the laws anymore and are angry about that, and that they appreciate you having listened.
For so few give the older generation the benefit of a kind and open ear willing to see past their bitterness at the changing world, to find their experience and the inevitable wisdom that you gather walking through life as a generation.
“A true teacher would never tell you what to do. But he would give you the knowledge with which you could decide what would be best for you to do.”
― Christopher Pike, Sati