A Tale of Two Grandmothers

It can be challenging to care for one’s parent

Today, I came across an interesting article from the Washington Post. It’s called “Self-absorbed millennials? Not the ones who are caregivers for their elders.” I felt deeply gratified that a growing number of young people caring for their elderly parents or grandparents. It did not just stop there.

I’ve read through some of the comments and there are more such stories. Let’s face the truth, it is not an easy task. Though I’m on the tail end of the “Baby Boomer” generation, I do know about the challenges of caring for one’s parents. So, I can identify with the emotional stress faced by the younger generation.

If this is your first time visiting my blog then it would help to know that I’m caring for my 76 year old mother. She has dementia and lives at a nearby nursing home. If you read the title of this blog post then you’ll likely have a question.

The short and easy answer is “relationship” One’s relationship with their parents or grandparents can greatly influence a willingness to care for them. The following are two snapshots of two grandmothers and some insights that may be of help to you.

My dad’s mother’s name is Helen. Grandma Helen was a wonderful lady and she was a pleasure to be around. When Grandma Helen and Grandpa Nick moved down to my area, it did not take much persuasion to go visit them. It was a genuine pleasure.

When my parents got divorced, they were a lighthouse and a great source of help confort. I can truly say that I am blessed by the times that I spent. Sadly, they suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease and passed on. Because I lived in Phoenix, I could not visit my grandparents at the nursing home.

If I had lived in North Jersey, I’d have wanted to visit them. I would not have needed any arm twisting or cajoling. You see, I was already willing and simply needed an opportunity. In my case, it would have required a ride.

A good relationship with one’s parents or grandparents can be a powerful encourager to care for the elderly. Good relationship can also be a help in heeding the admonition of Proverbs 23:22 that says “Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” 

When it comes to dementia and Alzheimer, it can be challenging for anyone. My grandmother lived with these things, for years. I, only got to see bits and pieces of it. On the other hand, my cousins saw a lot more of it. Because my mother apparently has vascular dementia, I can well understand the emotional pains that other people go through and I’m not that far along.

Befor I continue, there needs to be a talk about the other grandmother. I really did not know my mom’s mother. For me, Grandma Lorraine gave the impression of being cold and distance. With Grandma Lorraine, I was never close. In time, I would discover that Grandma Lorraine went through a lot of struggles and she may well have been a great help.

Yes, I get to spend some time with her; however, I don’t know if she enjoyed my company. My memories consists of holiday visits and certain special occaisons.  She really was not a part of my life. This is in sharp contrast to my dad’s parents.

My grandmother, Lorraine did not suffer from Alzheimer. I don’t recall if she spent any time in a nursing home. However, my mother’s father did spend time in a nursing home. Grandma Lorraine suffered from ill health and a heart problem.

Would I have visited Grandma Lorraine, if she had been in a nearby nursing home? I will be honest. Today, I would have a very difficult time in doing so. It is true. I would have dragged my butt and likely needed a kick in the rear. Before I became a committed Christian, I would have likely avoided going to see her.

Why the sharp contrast? Did I hate Grandma Lorraine? No, I simply did not know her and I had no real desire to visit her, outside of family gatherings. She was really not a part of my life and I had no real memories to share or go by.

When you’re dealing with dementia and Alzheimer, your memories of shared experiences can be a great help in talking with your parents or grandparents. They can also open doors of communications. With Grandma Helen, I suspect this fact probaably helped my father’s family.

Are you getting the point? Our relationship with our parents or grandparents can greatly help or hinder their care. Yes, there is a duty to care for our elderly parents or grandparents. After all, they gave so much in caring for us. It’s only appropriate to return the favor.  It still doesn’t change the reality of what’s been said.

My relationship with my mother can greatly influence and help my willingness to care for her. A poor relationship will only result in disaster, for everyone. It is not too late to work on your relationship; even if the parent is in a nursing home. Here are some suggestions that may help in rebuilding

Here are some suggestions that may help in rebuilding relationship.

Forgiveness: If you had a great relationship with your parents or grandparents then you have been truly blessed. Sadly, this is not the case for many families. Over the years, I have heard plenty of horror stories of broken relationship.

Whatever the situation, I would encourage you to forgive your parents or grandparents. I had to do this very thing. I had to forgive my mother and I asked her, for forgiveness. With God’s help, I went through the process of forgiveness, some years ago. Don’t be afraid to ask Jesus for help in forgiving and seeking forgiveness.

Time management: Let’s face it. Everyone has a busy schedule of one type or another. We have something else in common. It’s the ability to set aside time and visit. If you decide to make it a priority then you will likely follow through with it.  I’ve plenty of friends, who did just that.  Find a time slot that wors best for you.

Get Creative in Your Conversation: Since the stroke and the dementia, my mother has managed to come up with fascinating topic of conversations. I’ve gone from wearing pink sweaters and slippers, traveling to China and making out with a resident. My fantasy role playing games were never this interesting. In cases like these, I had to take my brother’s advice. Roll with it.

There are times, I did go with the flow and there are times when I had to gently bring her back to reality. Confusion is very much a part of dealing with dementia. The person doesn’t always realize what’s being said. In some cases, it may be a confusion of facts; not fantasy.

Comedy is Golden: I give thanks to God, for healing my sense of humor. I, also give thanks to certain YouTubers for helping to develop my wits and humor. When you can laugh, it is lot easier to brush off oddball conversations. It also helped in handling my mother’s sarcasm. Good clean comedy can also be a good way to handle the stress of caring for an elderly parent or grandparent.

Don’t Hold Grudges: When it comes to dementia, people can say something and they have no clue of what they said. My mother is no exception and I’ve seen worse at the same nursing home. In such cases, you have to let it go. Remember Proverbs 10:12Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions.” Let it go in one ear and out the other.

Why is this so important? A time will come and you won’t have your parents or grandparents. They will be gone and you’ll never be able to get that time back. With Grandma Lorraine, I am only a little sad that I didn’t get to know her. Of couse, this is not the same thing as regrets.

In the above scenario, I talked about my maternal grandmother being in a nearby nursing home. It is true that I’d not feel regret about a lack of visits. The opposite would be true of my father’s mother. Why? Grandma Helen is a big part of my life and I would have regretted not seeing her.

How is your relationship with your grandparents? How about your parents? Is it a relationship similar to my paternal grandparents? Is it similar to my relationship with my mom’s mother? Does your relationship with your parents involves emotional pains?

If so, I would encourage you to forgive them. Here is a better question. Has it occurred to you that your parents may have regrets, too? They may need to hear you say, “I love you, I forgive you or I’m sorry.”  If you are having trouble then I know someone that you can talk with.

Jesus is always available and the Son is always approachable. You can always ask Jesus to help you in the area of forgiveness, reconciliation and moving forward. Here is the best part. You can always be real with God, about your pains and struggles. Jesus is quite able to help; if you let him into your heart.

Barry Brindisi

Author of "You Are Not A Lesser Human".

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