Grandpa worked hard all his life and when I was nine he eventually succumbed to emphysema. He left behind a legacy of 8 living children and a whole lot of grand-babies. My other Grandpa worked at a cannery.
My husband’s grandparents were all valuable assets to their communities.. Paki at the insectry and Grandpa Charlie was a carpenter, a preacher and then recycled, as it were, before recycling was cool.
My parents have worked, contributed and raised children who do the same as have my husbands parents.
Apparently we are a dying breed.
On the paternal side of my family, immigrants from Ukraine in the early 1900’s, have over the last 100 years, produced doctors, lawyers, preachers, engineers, nurses, musicians, even a director. And that’s just the family I know about. Dad is the 9th of 10 children. Sometimes I lose track.
When the work was over and Grandma became ill her we brought her into our home. I was eleven. We took care of her in her advanced senility because it was simply our turn to care for her. We did so, to the best of our ability, until her medical needs exceeded our capabilities. Then we drove an hour each way, once a week, to visit her in the home and eat butterscotch pudding off her tray.
We never stopped loving, or caring, or taking care of our own. Even when the silly LPN put knobs, aka “buns”, on the sides of her head. There she was simply Alvina with iron gray hair and long nose. Her face was creased and pale. Hands once busy were now frail and spotted and lay nervously in her lap while she called for Billy or Jake.
She was precious but the circumstances weren’t pretty. And yes, it did cost us for her to be cared for. But would my life, would any of our lives have been better for her having been quietly shuffled off when her needs became “invasive”?
While she lived with us we learned so many things from her. Patience. Compassion. Tenderness. To protect the weak, feeble, demanding and inconvenient.
One afternoon, my sister Roxi put weeks old LeNiqua into Grandma’s frail arms. We didn’t know quite what to expect. But suddenly this woman who, in her dementia, would snag pinches at my 5 year old brother Matthew, softened. Her face turned down toward that sweet little dark haired girl, her head cocked to the side and her frail hands unconsciously patted a little diapered behind. She softly coo’d comforting noises and rocked slightly back and forth. We stood by breathlessly watching the transformation. There was something about holding baby LeNiqua that brought her back to us. And it brought me an image of Grandma as a young mother, with one more baby in her arms, in the early hours of the day, sharing those few moments of quiet before the day took off. Again. And while I’d never seen her that way before I knew, that was Grandma.
What I would have missed had she not been there.
Before that day Grandma was a tall, broad woman with hair tightly pulled back in a coronet of braids. An austere woman who spoke more to adults and stayed mostly in the other room while Grandpa smoked cherry tobacco in his pipe and handed out lemon drops.
Later she became the loud confused voice in the living room calling for a husband who was gone and praying over and over again. “Thank you, Jesus. Praise the Lord. Hallelujah.” And she was eventually reduced to the thin woman belted into the wheel chair because she couldn’t be trusted to stay where it was safe. She was the voice who constantly warned us to “be decent”. No matter what we were wearing.
But most of all, during the time she lived with us, I remember that moment. When she sat, in the corner, by the upright grand piano on a crocheted afghan in a brown vinyl recliner that used to be Grandpa’s. As light streamed in through lacy curtains she cradled a baby and we were allowed a glimpse into the woman Grandma still was.
Underneath it all.
No, it wasn’t an easy time of life but despite everything we loved her. Even when it cost us. The time she spent in the farmhouse on Fly Creek has forever impacted my thoughts on what family does for each other, how vital each member of the family is, regardless of age, infirmity or calculable viability.
Today the elected officials and the man in the White House would have us believe that her life wasn’t worth more than the resources necessary to get her out of the way. That my life,then and now, at least until I hit 65, is and was worth more than hers. Because I can offer more, give more, pay more toward Der Staat. Instead of surgery to attempt to save her life, she would have been offered a $100 cocktail of drugs so we could murder her in her bed where she trusted us.
I look at my parents. My sweet parents. My mother is 73, my father 69. A dear friend from college passed away last week from a long term illness. It shook them. Mom says, “They are dropping all around us!”and I tell her she has only become more rare and priceless. We laugh.
Last October my father had a triple-bypass. Next year he might need something else. Would that be an option? Or would he receive “end of life” counseling? Where would he go? What would he do? The example he gave us was to take care of our elders. I don’t know if he’ll “allow” us to, he’s rather an independent sort, but we’ll definitely do our best to care for him. For them. As long as we are able.
The point is this: It is not within my power to determine the quality or effect of the life of a person. The soul shines through regardless of length or our ridiculous notions of quality. God’s breath in each person as their days are meted out according to His schedule. Not mine. Never mine.
Life is precious. All of it, from the beginning to the end. It is a circle that must be seen. Must be protected. Must be insured. So we don’t forget where we come from and where we are headed.
Euthanasia is a frightful and dreadful concept that slaughters the weak. It is the evil twin of abortion and a perversion of compassion at such a degree it makes me ill. Both are concepts supported in large by the young, healthy and self-absorbed and ones by which our bloated, decrepit and vile society will be judged.
But that’s not the country I grew up believing in. That isn’t the society I was excited to bring my sons into not all that long ago.
I look at the political landscape, the talking heads, the frantic screams from both sides and I truly don’t know where we, as a country, are headed. But I know this.
It doesn’t feel like my country anymore.