I’m back in the home that used to be my mother’s. My stepfather, who is the full-time caregiver for my grandmother, is in the hospital. He has a skin infection that will be easily treated, however without his care there is no one else for my grandmother. We are working on options so I can return to work soon, but for now I am on grandma-duty.
Fortunately my mother married a man who was willing and able to care for her mother after she passed. I don’t take this for granted; he certainly could have declined this role. Yet even with his devotion I feel an added responsibility I never felt when Mom was alive. I am Grandma’s closest living relative, and there is only me. She has outlived both a husband and a longstanding romantic partner, as well as her only child. She is not able to care for herself independently, and I have a responsibility to ensure that her needs are met.
This is the source of some anxiety. I haven’t yet recharged my batteries from Mom’s long illness and I worry about meeting Grandma’s needs if and when my stepfather is unable to do so. I also feel the burden of a small family. I have no sibilings with which to share caregiving; my stepsister lives in another country. At many junctures during my mother’s illness I felt alone. Not to minimize the losses of my stepfather or Grandma, who arguably have had their daily lives more disrupted than I by her death. However, nobody else was losing my mother in the same way I was. No one else was watching this mother die of cancer.
Maybe grief is always lonely. Maybe a brother or sister would have been disruptive, angry, drunk, high, unavailable, busy doing other things or otherwise a total pain in the ass. Any wishes I may have for more help in caregiving aging relatives is not only pointless, it illustrates the impossibility that I wish for: that my mother wasn’t dead.
Her passing has made me grow up. I don’t have children, so with this loss I entered a new realm of responsibility for another human being. It also has provided a taste of getting older. I now understand the sting of watching the generations before me die, removing the meaningless yet symbolic distance between myself and the end. And I understand how difficult it is to say goodbye, to let go. And what is getting older, if not a process of letting go?