Letters From a Young Catholic

My reflections as a Catholic young adult passionate about the Faith, seeking to grow in knowledge and understanding of God and discerning the will of the Lord in my life.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Visiting Grandparents

As I mentioned before, I've come home for the summer to care for my grandparents. I will be spending my whole day every day with them for the next two months. Right now my uncle is still in town caring for my grandpa but as of next week I'll be on my own. Over these past few days I've been spending time with my grandparents getting to better know their needs and the routines and systems they already have in place. All four of my grandparents have had a huge role to play in my life as they lived in the same small town I was raised in. Growing up I saw my maternal grandparents every day (they live a few houses away on the same street) and my paternal grandparents at least a few times a week. I know that this coming summer will be challenging but I'm really looking forward to spending the time with my grandparents. Since going away to university I've only been seeing them during the holidays and I really miss them when I'm at school. Their health is declining and I realize that inevitably one day I will no longer be able to visit with them. This frightens me since I've never lost anyone I've been close to.

My paternal grandpa had a stroke three years ago and has had declining health ever since. He's unable to do anything for himself so caring for him will be quite demanding. He is fully coherent though and if you're patient with him, because he speaks very slowly and not very clearly, he's able to carry out a conversation. My Nana and Grandpa have been married sixty-two years and have been friends since the age of six! I will be spending most of my time this summer at their house caring for Grandpa and helping Nana around the house.

While my grandpa's is having his naps though I'll be going over to help my Opa take care of my Oma. Oma is suffering from alzheimer's and is also no longer able to care for herself. She's a precious woman and it's so sad to witness the decline in her health. A year ago she knew who I was and could carry out a fully coherent conversation. Today she doesn't even recognize her own children, let alone her grandchildren. She was a very smart woman and received her master's in French Literature when she moved to Canada from Germany after the war. She used to speak five languages fluently. Now she mostly responds in German, the language of her childhood. I'm very grateful that I speak German! I think she still remembers some Latin from going to Latin Mass though . . yesterday I was helping her get dressed and I bumped her knee by accident and so I said "mea culpa" and she smiled at me and said "mea culpa, mea maxima culpa."

This morning I went to my Nana and Grandpa's to help with breakfast and clean-up a bit. As I was going to leave my Nana had tears in her eyes. Every day is so difficult for her. On my way home I then stopped by my Oma and Opa's to say hello. My Oma was sleeping on the couch and I ended up having a conversation with my Opa about her declining health. He was saying how difficult it is for him to watch her condition worsen each day. "She's not who she used to be," he said, "an it's so difficult for me to watch." I reassured him that I'd be around during the summer to help out in any way I could and reminded him that we can be thankful that she is at least not physically suffering. Though this much is true, I think my Opa is suffering a lot. When I told him I'd be around to help this summer he said "This isn't how you should be spending your summer." It told him that there's nothing else I'd rather be doing this summer. And that's the honest truth. I know my grandparents are getting older and I'm not naive, I realize that they won't be around forever. I'd much rather spend my summer providing them with the care and support they need to be able to stay at home as long as possible than to be living on my own working a minimum wage job down in the city. When I told my Opa this he began to cry. Seeing him cry it really struck me how much he must be suffering. Here's a man who was captured by the Nazi's and escaped, fought in the French Resistance using an alias name for five years, was emprisoned under Franco in Spain, and eventually made his way to Canada without any money to his name, not speaking a word of English, and not knowing anyone in Canada. He's a tough man and does not cry easily. Yet watching his wife of fifty-five years slowly slip away from him brings tears to his eyes. I remember when I was growing up I tended to cry a lot and he'd often say to me, "Why are you crying? You have no reason to cry!" Ok, maybe not the most compassionate grandparenting skills but in retrospect he was probably right ninety-nine percent of the time. As I left his house today though I was thinking about this to myself and I realized he does have a reason to cry.

In many ways it's more difficult for the spouse who is providing the care than for the one who is declining in health. I was reminded of this today in the conversations I had with my grandparents who are the caregivers. May God grant them the necessary emotional, physical, spiritual and mental strength to care for their spouses and the humility to accept the help and assistance they need. All four of my grandparents have always provided me with an amazing testimony and witness to the sanctity of marriage. Increasingly they are showing me what it truly is to be a suffering servant who loves the one he serves.

Please pray for my grandparents, your own grandparents, and all the elderly who are so often neglected and forgotten by our modern societies.