Monday, July 28, 2014

Growing older kinda sucks sometimes.

My grandfather is turning 84 on the 30th of this month. Eighty-freaking-four years on this planet. Sure, it's not really that long of a time, considering the age of the universe, but still. He's seen a lot in his eight decades of life: several wars, his own immigration from Canada, civil rights, raising four kids on a small salary, trying to figure out "kids these days" through the actions of his (now ten) grandchildren. I'm not going to lie and say that I have a great relationship with the man, because I don't really. I don't know him very well and haven't spent a lot of time with him, mainly due to the geographical divide between us. Growing up a military brat meant that I spent a lot of my childhood moving across the U.S., and eventually, my family set itself up in Nashville, TN, a good twelve hours away from my mother's parents, and then, due to my parents' work schedules, it was very difficult to find time for traveling. Once a year or so, my parents would take me and my sister up to see him once a year or so, and he and my grandma (before she died in the late 90s) would do the same, usually around the holidays, as many families do.

But it looks like that is going to change. A few days ago, my grandfather was involved in an exceptionally bad car accident, where his car turned into this:
Via my mom, who's currently in the hospital with my grandfather
The police are still going over details regarding what actually happened in the wreck, but as far as we know now, my grandfather ran a red light and was t-boned by a teenager who was speeding (and driving his parents' car, which suuuuuucks). His car rolled over and over, leaving him with multiple injuries: broken sternum and ribs, punctured (and then collapsed) lung, a heart attack (not so much an injury, but related to the event), and a perforated small intestine. You know, things that would be difficult for someone who is not 84-years-old to recover from. Luckily, the other driver was not harmed and was able to walk away, but my grandfather was taken to the trauma unit. Two surgeries later, he's still in the hospital, with my mom by his side as often as she can be, sedated and in a ton of pain.

From talking with my mom, Grandpa has been slowly struggling with bouts of dementia. Prior to his wreck, he was known to ask her who the hell she was when she called, only to not remember having the conversation a few hours later. This isn't an uncommon thing for the elderly community, but it's still incredibly difficult to witness when it's someone that you know and care about, even if the care you have is more abstract theory than anything else. The last time I talked with him - about a month ago, I believe - he seemed his usual self: whip smart, sarcastic, and eager to get off the phone*. I am having a very hard time dealing with the fact that this man, as socially awkward as he is, is gradually losing a lot of his freedoms because of things he can't control.

Basically, now that my grandfather has had his right to drive taken from him, my mom and her brothers face a dilemma: what do they do now? I can't even imagine what's going through their minds. They all have complicated relationships with their father - not bad or strained, necessarily, but ... different - and there's a ton of responsibility, regardless of who takes on the mantle of caretaker. It doesn't help that they haven't been able to speak to Grandpa about it, since he's sort of in a sedated haze right now. Everything is speculation right now, which is just making it that much harder.

Of course, my mother decides to bring up their living will in the midst of all of this, which just makes me cringe. It's not like I don't know that they aren't going to live forever; they're human beings and we all have an expiration date. That doesn't mean that I enjoy talking about having to make medical and financial decisions for my parents when the time comes, if ever. My mom made it clear that she wants to be cremated and then have her remains buried with my dad (I'm assuming this is if they die together because um, no, Mom, I'm not digging up Dad to put you in his casket if statistics keep you living longer than he does). I guess this is what I have to look forward to now that I've crested into my thirties. My parents are in their sixties now** and probably have about another twenty years, maybe more. I just never expected all of this to hit me and come out of nowhere: Mrs. Carroll, my high school teacher, died, Mamaw had a stroke, Grandpa got into a wreck after having another episode ... I don't want my life to be just one story of death or dying after another, where I'm on Facebook asking for happy thoughts to be sent my way. It's a reality of life, I know, but that doesn't make this any easier.

For now, I'm going to focus on sending as many good vibes as I can toward my grandfather in Virginia. And I'm going to call Mamaw and ask her to tell me another story about growing up on her farm in Kentucky. And I'm going to relish the time I have with my family and friends as much as I can. I guess that's all I can do.

* I'm with you there, Grandpa. I hate phones. Like, actively hate. I'd rather text or email and then talk in person. Three figured out fairly quickly that my tone changes after about, oh, three minutes into a phone conversation and understood that I was kind of over talking but selflessly pushing through. My mom has yet to figure this out (love you, Mom).
** Dad is officially 60 and Mom is 58, but she considers herself 60 already for some reason. She enjoys getting her senior citizen discount at Cracker Barrel. /shrugs
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