My Grandma was born in the Ukraine to German Mennonite Farmers. They were a colony of folks from Germany who had been persecuted and moved to the Ukraine under Catherine the Great’s rule until she died. When my Grandma was small, they were persecuted again and fled to Canada by ship.
Family has always been important to Elly. I have been privileged to have known my Great-Grandparents and Great-Uncles and Aunts as if they were regular Uncles and Aunts. German was Elly’s first language along with Low-German. She attended school until 8th grade, in Canada. Elly has been the Matriarch of the family – she had nine siblings.
We had large family gatherings when most of them lived in California. Now, there are seven siblings left and Elly is still one of the healthiest ones! Elly’s hobbies have been reading, gardening, sewing, knitting/crochet/embroidery and grand/great grandkids. The house we live in is the one I was brought home from the hospital – my parents were living with my Grandparents when me and my sister were born (for two years).
The flower beds are just a shadow of what was there 40 years ago, still nice but not with all the bulbs and care that she put into them. I spent a week or so in the summers here learning to be quiet around my Great-grands while my grandparents were at work. Elly taught me how to embroider and I have many unfinished projects that I would love to finish some day. She never drove but she would take my sister and me downtown to buy summer sandals and sometimes we’d see a movie. Grandpa would drive us for the “Herbie, the Love Bug” drive-in movies. My grandma did have to spank me once but most of the time I was given everything I could imagine and sometimes more. I have travelled across the country, from California to Niagara Falls, Canada twice with my family AND my grandparents in one car and survived.
My Grandma Elly always had tea and cookies for us when we’d come for a weekend visit, no matter what time of night. She would also always stand on the porch to wave us goodbye, no matter what time we left. Everything was on a schedule, especially meal times! Sunday lunch had to be at noon and hopefully the pastor wouldn’t preach too long.
Today, she still has to eat on a schedule as if Grandpa was coming home for lunch or dinner. She says her father insisted on that kind of schedule too. The traffic was always on Grandma’s schedule as she never wanted to go out at 4 p.m. since the traffic would “just be horrible”. The mailman was expected to be on schedule AND bring lots of mail on Monday because of the weekend.
Elly still dresses “up” to go out, never wears pants and always puts on pantyhose too. I found out that when we have folks over for dinner, my husband is expected to sit in a particular place and make sure dishes get passed. There’s usually some critique about how we did something “un-hostess-like.” She likes proper.
Healthwise, Elly is doing well. She never took anything but Thyroid until about four years ago. She only takes four prescription drugs and a bunch of vitamins. At 91.5 years old, that’s great! Her kidneys are not functioning as well anymore due to high blood pressure. She wears hearing aids most of the time. She has a very healthy heart, strong bones and strong will! She canceled her doctor appointments (general doctor and kidney doctor) last year saying that she felt fine and didn’t know why she needed to come in. I thought they wouldn’t renew her RX which would force us to go in.
When the letters from the doctors arrived stating they were dropping her as a patient, I intervened and we had two Dr. appointments last week. I did negotiate a return visit in six months rather than three. The one Dr. wanted to take her off an RX because it supposedly causes heart disease. I told him that at 91, we weren’t worried about anything causing heart disease, she was doing well with her blood pressure and any change is hard on her body!
Elly’s mind is experiencing some dementia which is normal, I suppose. Her health is pretty good, generally. She sleeps in her chair quite a bit during the day but “doesn’t nap”. She will faint if she gets too warm under the hair dryer. She has a bad knee that is bent and causes her pain but she rarely complains. She’s achey and takes a bit of effort to go from standing to sitting, but doesn’t complain. Her toe is bent and when it hurts she uses some BenGay-type cream, she’ll tell me when it hurts. I know she has a headache or allergies when she sits with her hand over her face, but she doesn’t complain. She likes to treat her nausea with candied ginger pieces or ginger ale that I keep stocked up in the refrigerator.
She uses a cane to get around and does have a fear of falling but only uses her walker to transport dishes when she sets the table or for the watering can to water plants. She still makes bread – usually oatmeal bread but forgets to put in the oatmeal sometimes. She makes far too many buns and then toasts them so we have a crisper full of toasted buns and lots of bread crumbs. She’ll make cookies but they don’t always turn out the way she wants and she says she follows the recipe – I don’t think she does.
So, today some of my frustration comes from the rub of her expectations and some of my relief had been from her consistency. Until today, I was pretty sure she wouldn’t leave the stove or oven on and forget it. I was pretty sure that she would turn off the lights or lock the doors and put the shades down/up. Today, she left the stove burner on and it had been on a while before I got home. She has not been as consistent in her routines the last few weeks. My frustration will be less when I can be in charge of the timing of some of those “routines”. Most people wouldn’t notice, but I do.
This is why when my sister comes to stay while we go on vacation that I make a specific list of what to watch for. Well, this weekend, this list will be longer for Sis. Elly takes care of my hubby and me as if we are guests most of the time. We get reminded to wear a jacket, close the door, eat this or that, time to eat now and asked “what do you have?”. After two years, I am not sure that this will change.
I know there will be change but I can’t be prepared ahead of time for what it will look like. I thought I knew what this caregiving would be like but I wasn’t prepared to be treated like a guest, working hard to give care while allowing Elly to do everything she really can do for herself. She still needs us here and improved physically/emotionally when we moved in. She deserves our care and attention. I feel privileged to be able to give back to her.
We leave on Sunday for a camping vacation to Big Sur, just three to four hours away depending on traffic. We’ll be back on Thursday, refreshed and ready to celebrate Easter. We are definitely overdue for this getaway. We are so grateful for my little sister who comes and stays with Grandma.