Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Helping Hands: Living with a disablity.

I have shared the story of my dad in the past. I am not going to go back over all that.  The short of it if you don't know the story, is that he died from Lymphoma 2 months after my 5th birthday and the loss of my father has effected my life in ways that are still there.  I think in many ways, it has made me more sensitive.  More caring of others.  It is a good thing and bad.  It is who I am. Shaped by that single event more than anything in life, up to this point.

What I have never shared with you, until now is the story of my grandparents.  My dad's parents.   About 3 years after my father's death, my grandmother had a catastrophic stroke.   The stroke left her paralyzed on one side and unable to speak.  She was unable to walk without the use of a walker.  My grandfather, who had retired a year or two before, was left caring for an invalid wife while still dealing with the grief over losing his first born son. 

Let me be clear on this, my grandfather was an amazing man.  He was kind and tough as only a WWII veteran can be.  He had the attitude that you get things done.  He was very no-nonsense when it came to those issues.  He was stubborn as a mule and sarcastic as only my family could appreciate but mostly he was strong.  He also loved his family and loved his wife, until the day he died.   He was fairly young when my grandmother became ill.  In his mid-fifties, and I am sure that neither of them planned that sort of retirement.    Yet, my grandfather took up the task of caring for his wife because it was his responsibility.  It was hard on him.   No man plans to lose a child and take care of his wife for the rest of his life.  He needed an outlet.  He had it in the farm.   The farm was the place he went every day to escape.  My grandfather also had help.  He had two kids who were there to support him and my grandmother.   My uncle lived with them then and he still lives in the house today, even though both my grandparents are gone now.   My aunt was close and even though she was raising two small children during this time, she was always there to support her parents.   My family did what we could in my father's place as well. 

My grandmother was not easy.  She lived about 10 years after the stroke and she never recovered.  She gave up, actually.   She was a strong woman before she became ill.  She was always going.  She loved garage sales, fishing, camping and you could always find her out beside my grandfather at his farm.  They were a pair.   Partners.   After the stroke, my grandmother never really tried to get better.   It isn't easy for me.  I loved her.  I was, actually, the apple of her eye.  She admitted to me once, I was her favorite. I always felt guilty about this and I always felt that my cousins never really got to know my grandmother.   Before the stroke I would go with her to her hair appointments while she got the biggest beehive hairdo you could only appreciate with a can of Final Net and a 1970's fashion sense.   I was her mini-her.  When she wanted to go, I would go.  I loved her.  My dad's parents were younger than my mom's by 20 years and they could go more than my mom's.  I was 7 when she had her stoke and I can tell you nobody begged her to try harder than I did.  I wanted my grandmother back.  I wanted my buddy.   The only time I ever convinced her to try was one time when the 10 year old me, told my grandmother that my father never gave up until the day he died and he would have moved heaven and earth to be able to go Christmas shopping with us and here she was using her walker as an excuse to not go.  She was afraid, you see.  Afraid everyone would stare.   You know the truth?  Nobody cared.   Nobody with any class, upbringing, or manners would care.  She went to the mall with us just to shut me up, I am sure.  That was the last time I can remember her out of her house.   I am sure there were others.  She would still go garage sale shopping but someone would drive her to the sales and she would sit in the car and point to what she wanted.

Watching someone with a disability is hard.  You love them and they change.  They become a person you don't know many times. They are angry, temperamental and they are stuck in a pity party that nobody else is invited to.  You want to help but sometimes you simply can't.  Sometimes you give it your all and it isn't enough.  Sometimes you wish you could do it for them.  Sometimes you get frustrated and need a break.   There are so many things that caregivers face that are impossible to even think about.  My grandfather had to help my grandmother do basic tasks of living.  She couldn't bathe, go to the bathroom, dress, or feed herself.  She couldn't make a pot of coffee for my grandfather, something she did for 30 years of marriage, every day.  The worst part for me, looking back, is that she could have done more, if she tried.  Like I said earlier, she gave up.  It became easier for her to let her husband, son, and daughter lift the load than for her to try to get better or get stronger.  

Everyone doesn't have a choice and yet there are some truly amazing people out there who live their lives to the fullest with an illness or disability because they are fighters and they would rather find a way to do what they can, like fish from a chair on the dock, which my grandmother could have done with her good arm, than sit at home and watch TV.  Everyone doesn't worry what others will think but says "to heck with them, I am living the life God gave me and making the most of it."   Everyone doesn't have a husband, grown son, and grown daughter who they can lean on.   People get tired and worn out and need a break and sometimes there is no break in sight.  In the end, you can't really blame them.  Having spent 10 years watching my grandmother slowly waste away, it is hard on the toughest person.   My grandfather never stopped loving her but he had 30 years to be with her healthy.  He never walked away but he had help and he had an outlet.  

Living is a challenge for healthy people, but so many people out there have a bigger challenge.   You never really know what the person behind you in line at the grocery store is dealing with.  Some have inner demons they are fighting like drugs, alcohol, or eating disorders, some have financial worries, some have job worries, and some have the worry of taking care of a husband, wife, daughter or son that has special needs.   There are blessings that come with the burdens associated with all of these issues.   It takes a very special person to find the blessings and be able to live happily with them.  Luckily, we are gifted with a lot of special people in this world.  Most of them do what has to be done and get little or no thanks for it. 

I want to take this moment to thank all the people in the world who have disabilities and overcome them and rise above and I want to thank all the caregivers who are there behind the scenes.  All of them need support and help and a smile when things look gloomy.   All of them deserve a well done, good job, or we appreciate you.  

1 comment:

Pary Moppins said...

What an important reminder to be more sensitive to the needs of caregivers everywhere.

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