Have you ever watched a Rom-Com or “chick flick” in which some actress who you’ve seen play the same role 100 times goes through some comedic lows and just past the three quarter mark, she gets the chance to grab life by the bal-excuse me-hand, and run with it? After watching it, did you make fun of the bad jokes and familiar plot line, but secretly wish you could do the same thing? Yeah, me too.
Five years ago, I moved in with my strong and loveable great-grandfather. For his age, which at the time was eighty-nine, he was rather healthy and getting around the house pretty well, but he was also stubborn and needed someone around to keep him from pushing himself too far. His daily routine included working on his truck and tinkering with various appliances so imagine my suprise when three years later, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s type dementia. It progressed rapidly and within a month, it became apparent that he would need 24 hour assistance.
Five years before his diagnosis, when he was making his living will, we made a promise to him that we would never place him in a nursing home so after his diagnosis, the family got together to work out a plan. The plan called for me to quit my job since my grandfather agreed to pay for the necessities I would need, so I did. The plan also involved having regularly scheduled assistance from three other relatives, but that part didn’t work out. Within three months, I was mostly on my own with him. I have one relative who isn’t mentally capable of helping, one who isn’t physically capable, and another who, like the rest of the family, just can’t be bothered.
(You know how people tell you that college will be the best years of your life? I sincerely hope they are wrong.)
I did not know it at the time, but moving into my grandfather’s was first of many choices that essentially equaled me giving up my early twenties. Quitting my job was was the so-called final nail in the coffin. For the majority of the last two years, I have not been able to leave the house with the exception of going to class and in order to do that, other things need to be
done. Meals need to be made, medications need set out, etc. I have friends who try to equate the situation with that of a working mom, but they are not the same. Being a caregiver for a dementia/Alzheimer’s patient means having to take care of someone who is convinced they are your boss. I used to think the kids I babysat for didn’t listen, but I did not have a clue, and let’s face it, there is a difference between changing a baby’s diaper and changing an adult diaper. Instead of going out with my friends, having lunch and dinner dates, going to the movies, shopping, taking a drive or even just going for a walk down the street, all of which mothers can usually do, I’m at home watching the man I grew up calling a my hero forget who I am.
What does this have to do with predictable chick-flicks? Not much on the surface. I am usually trying to squeeze in a few minutes of homework time in between calming down my grandfather so I don’t have much time for movies, but when he’s finally asleep and the house is still, all I can think about his how I wish my life was a rom-com. I could leave this place in the dust, jump in the car and start my adventure, make my own choices. That’s really what I want, to make choices solely for myself. I forget what that’s like. In fact, I can’t remember the last time someone asked me to do something that didn’t require a grandpa-related response, that is, until recently. Last week, I discovered that a band I like added a new stop on their tour. It was only three hours away and tickets were only $20.00. When a friend suggested we actually go, I just said yes. I didn’t think about it at all, but after the conversation, reality set in. Who would watch grandpa? How would we get there? How would I make it to class on time? Where would I get the money? Fortunately, it was too late. The tickets were purchased. The concert was three weeks away so I had time to try and figure it all out, but it was still the most spontaneous I’d been in years and it felt incredible.
It has been a week since I planned this mini trip, but I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t stop thinking about not coming home, about driving even farther away in search of my true story because this can’t be all it is. I’ve always been desperate for the day I could have my own place, but it’s no longer the innocent thought that it was when I was a kid and thought being an adult would be the greatest thing in the world, the way we all felt. Instead, it’s now a feeling riddled with guilt. I wish everyday that I didn’t have to take care of him, but he never complained about taking care of four generations of children, some who weren’t even related. How do I reconcile the desire to be young and free from such responsibilities with the desire to be the devoted granddaughter? How do I deal with the fact that I want nothing more than a little help, but don’t want to leave him with anyone else? How do I deal with the possibility of him waking up five minutes from now and not knowing who I am? Most importantly, how do I know when enough is enough?