Family. It’s where the best of times and the worst of times are played out in the lives of most human beings. Few, if any, of us live “Ozzie and Harriett” lives like the 50s television shows tried to represent. The title of the recent movie, “It’s Complicated,” says it well.
No matter what generation you’re part of, you can’t escape it. But if you’re a Baby Boomer like me, you’re part of the current “sandwich generation,” with aging parents and grown (or nearly grown) kids and even grandchildren. In previous times, multi-generational families lived together much more often than they do today. I was talking with my daughter yesterday. She’s working on a design for her master’s thesis in architecture that involves a retirement/assisted living facility that would be situated near a middle school and other cross-generational community centers, allowing for a more natural interaction between the age groups. So many older folks are isolated today, which probably increases their needs for anti-depression meds and government and medical intervention earlier than would have been needed in the past, when Granddaddy and Grandmother lived at home, or at least close to their children and grandchildren.
But even if we chose to put our elderly parents in nursing homes and not allow our potential boomerang kids from coming back home after college, Family still looms large in our minds, our hearts, our psyches. And so it should. Here’s how it came down for me today.
When I woke up and looked at the calendar, I realized it was the third anniversary of my brother’s death. Mike was only 58 when he died of lung cancer. Here he is at 20, home from deployment to the Philippines with the Marines, just in time for my wedding, in June of 1970.
And here we are with my mother in December of 2006, just 6 weeks before he died. Mom was still in assisted living then, before she broke her hip and had to go to the nursing home. It was the last Christmas the three of us would be together. He could barely make it from his car up to her apartment without his oxygen. Just looking at these pictures and thinking about Mike makes me sad.
And so I head upstairs to work out on the elliptical machine, and there’s my father. Well, this watercolor of him running in the Mississippi Marathon. It’s on the wall where I can look at him when I’m on the elliptical machine and I’m tired and want to quit and there he is, keeping on keeping on. Until cancer got him at age 68, in 1998. I also put his picture on that wall because it’s just above the desk where I do all my mother’s bookkeeping. Somehow it’s comforting, like he’s watching over me as I’m doing what he used to do for her.
So, today I began the process of applying for Medicaid for my mother, because her investment money will run out in April and her retirement income and Social Security combined will only cover about half of her monthly expenses at the nursing home. It’s a complicated process, and it will help if I go ahead and get her income taxes filed first and pay off her funeral home expenses and make sure everything is in order. Mom will be 82 next month. Other than the Alzheimer’s, she’s in pretty good health. Her mother lived to be 86 with Alzheimer’s. At $5000/month for nursing home care…. Well, you can see why I’m a little anxious that the Medicaid process will go smoothly.
Shortly after finishing Mom’s paperwork for the day, our son, Jonathan, called… from Afghanastan. It’s always a bit surreal to talk with him—with no time delay in the phone conversation like there was when he was in Iraq in 2003 and again in 2006—and to hear about what his life is like in Jalalabad (actually he’s in Bagram for a few weeks, but is based in Jalalabad) and to listen to him talk about his hopes and dreams for his future.
If it seems like I’m rambling it’s because Family is like that. One minute you’re doing something menial like laundry and the next you hear you’re going to be grandparents (again) and the next you’re filing for Medicaid for your mother. And somewhere in the midst of all this you try to make room for yourself, without feeling guilty, and to nurture your marriage. My husband and I are going to the Orpheum Theater tomorrow night to see the musical, “The Jersey Boys.” We’ve got front row tickets—our Christmas gift to ourselves. For a couple of hours we’ll sing and clap (and I’ll probably get up and dance!) and be transported back to a simpler time in our lives.
We’re also planning a trip to Italy in the fall to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. You know the song, “Don’t Blink”? It really does go by faster than you think. Even if you’re still helping get kids through college while taking care of your own parents and enjoying your first grandchildren. It’s a lot to take in. Enjoy it.