The ongoing argument is always in this society what do we do with our old people, or more respectfully, the elderly. If you ask me, I think we should build shrines to them the way they do in some countries, and when they pass on to some other life, or blackness or whatever it is we pass on to, that we keep an altar in our living room and get down on our knees and thank god for their existence and all that they did for us, for without them, we first, wouldn’t be here, and second, likely wouldn’t have many of the lovely things we have if we ever inherited even a dime from them, but mostly, we wouldn’t have a sense of family or rootedness, and while I know that my own family is as dysfunctional or more or less than the next person’s, I also know that I would not be who I am without them, both good and bad.
For me, life was complicated from the first, as I was born to two very young people who were still children themselves. The situation as it was, it was no surprise that I would eventually find that I would be raised in large part by my grandparents, who, after the shakedown between my biological parents took place, as much as I may have and do love them (or the one of them that I really know anyway), my grandparents became my parents. When Denny, my grandfather died, I lost a father. A real father. Not a step-father or a grandfather or like a father but a real, actual father. This is how it felt to me. He did all the things a father does, and more. He taught me to be the best person I can be. He wrote poetry with me as we lay in bed on Sunday mornings and watched the pigeons on the line and I sat on the covers while he made up limericks about the woman across the street and got the occasional smack from my grandmother, god bless her, and these were as I knew it my parents.
I knew I had a real mother, of course, but since my mother was so very young, and to me, so very glamorous as well, all decked out in her Mods and flying around with this or that boyfriend on his Vespa sidecar or in the passenger seat of an MG and getting her hair cut and dyed intro a lavender colored bobbed haircut by none other than Vidal Sassoon himself. My mum was more like a cool, older sister or an aunt or even a friend. My grandparents, only in their early forties, were the true grownups, and so they raised us all; my mother, her siblings, and me. And off and on, various family members took to their little house in Tottenham in Northeast London as a refuge, but for me, it was always home. I was the guest of honor. The one who got to stay there all the time. The one who got to stay after the Sunday roast had been eaten and everyone else had to slog off home. Even as a kid, I knew I had the ha-ha on the grown ups. I was a brat; I felt special. Lucky. Blessed. And little has changed from those early days for me. The blessing is still there, but the people have changed to be sure.
A while ago, we lost Denny and he died and I had to say Yes to tipping the morphine drip (as we still believe in Europe that euthanasia, at a certain point, is more humane that making someone suffer horrible emotional and physical pain. I hope this wisdom comes to pass in American hospitals as well at some point, or at least by the time I am older because god knows I wouldn’t want to suffer for extended periods of time and worse, make my family suffer). I got the call in Canada while I was away skiing and the decision had been made and that was that. This was, no doubt, hard, as anyone who has lost a father knows. I drove back to my home now in Boston that same day at about a hundred miles an hour, not caring if a police car would stop me and question me for I knew that nothing in the physical world or the real world could harm or hurt me the way I was hurting on that day and the many days to follow. I boarded a plane to Florida the next day, or a few days later, and arrived to find my grandmother who had been, we found, having minor heart attacks since the day Denny had passed and was in coronary arrest and in need of surgery. We saw her through this and I stayed on a while, watching as she went through one crisis after another.
Now, only a year or more later, but not long in any event, there is some talk in my family of What is right for my grandmother. Should she be in a home? Should she be in some kind of assisted living? I keep trying to imagine why she would need this, because the tough, Scottish woman that I’ve known my whole life does not need this by any stretch and even though she is into her eighties, she is still smart as a whip and there is nothing mentally wrong with her at all. The problem and the one that has lead to these hard discussions between me and my mother, have to do with my grandmother’s unwillingness to help herself. Her seeming apathy, to me, is a sign of real depression. I keep saying it’s not a doctor she needs, but a therapist or better, a group of real friends.
Even better, my grandmother now lives in Florida and had moved to this country when my mother was ill years ago. Scotland and England were too hard a climate on her as she had gotten older and so America seemed a better choice. A few months ago, some Americans from New York turned up at her door, or they rang on the phone first, and said that they were her relatives. Yes, they said. We had found you on the Internet.
I immediately smelled scam and said so, but Nanny seemed so happy to hear from some people who might be family that it was hard to convince her that there are people who look for older women who have just lost their husbands and who own property and who have jewelry and possessions they are giving away because they fear they are nearing the end of their life and that these people will show up and prey on you. Note, that these people, my long, lost Scottish cousins; as they call themselves (and remember, I am really from Scotland, with pure Scottish and a wee bit of French blood, but born and raised in the UK and still carrying a passport etc. etc.), each of them has a heavy New York accent, they are in their early twenties, they have never even been to Scotland or Europe, they do not know other members of our family, and let’s face it, if you wanted to get in touch with someone in our family through the internet, I would be the most logical choice, since out of all of us, I am all over the freaking internet because I can’t stop writing, and even if it’s total crap, the point is, I would be the easiest to find and locate.
Did they find me and figure, she’d kick our ass if we tried to pull one over on her? Better go for the old lady instead? IF so, I can only say they were right. I can also say that I am coming to Florida this Christmas, kiddie=winks, so look out, because bad santa-bitch is back in town and will be doing background checks on all of you. Just because you say your last name is the same, doesn’t mean a thing, and Christ, what about all those people called Smith. Am I related to every Ranson? Every Polizzotti? I mean really. Just because someone says a thing and seems nice, we all know may not be the truth. But the problem here, and this is where it starts, is that if you find, as they have, an older woman whose life has just been demolished, then she is easy prey. This is where my mother and I start wondering about whether or not Nanny can make her own decisions, for surely to let these people into her lives, oh, excuse me, my cousins from New York (for fuck’s sake this is a joke in itself; my family is entirely in Scotland the UK, save for the small cluster that followed me here). And to boot, to have not known anyone else and to have just found her right after Denny died is just precious.
This is why groups God invented groups that do background checks and gave me good research skills and lets not forget that I did some research for a detective agency and am good at what I do. I make it my business to know. I will find out who these cousins are, and when I do, and I’m sure I already know this is a scam, I will find my other cousins; from Little Italy and have them go and have a friendly cousin to cousin chat with them, and I’ll be there to watch as this all goes down.
All said though, the problem is them yes, but how do you reconcile your grandmother’s independence when she would make such a bad decision about people whose story is flimsy at best and who neither she, nor any of us, have ever heard of. And as I said, I am the only person in my family who is on the Internet. When I did a search on the Internet for my grandmother, I found nothing. If you ask me to guess, I would say these people probably sit around and read the obits in the local newspaper and make a note of addresses and last and family names. Then they do as much research as they can. The issue, because I do not have the same last name, is that they didn’t count on me and they do not know just how fiercely protective I am and will be of my own family. Likewise, my mother, who is like a lion protecting her cubs. But still, this is the kind of thing that my grandmother must be aware of on her own, and if not on her own, then she must listen to us when we tell her for we are clearly looking out for her best interests. That she won’t listen, or hasn’t so far, is nerve-wracking. These people could be anything; killers for heaven’s sake. Not long ago, there was a group of kids about that age in the same area who killed an old lady who let them in and then ransacked her house and even showed up at the crime scene claiming to be family. It all sounds too familiar to me, and frankly, I have to agree that if my grandmother cannot see a danger like this coming, then perhaps it truly is time she faced that she is not the best judge of what is best for her.
To take away anyone’s independence is a huge assault and frankly, is a decision that should never be made lightly. Everyone should have the right to make his or her own decisions, the right to autonomy. I will never let anyone make decisions about me for me. I will find my own way through and though I may fuck up, they will be my fuck ups. The issue is only an issue when those fuck ups could endanger you (as is possible in my grandmother’s case at present) or that you pose a danger to yourself or some other (not her case). But does she pose a threat to herself by making bad decisions and by not seeing these things? This much remains to be seen, and though it pains me, I would have to say that in some ways, Yes. That what is going on right now is a terrifying thing to see from a distance and that I can’t help but notice that when I go down to Florida, these so-called relatives disperse and scatter like so much dust, because out of dust they were born.
They will not face me because I am younger, more savvy, more onto their game and they sense this without even meeting me. Maybe they’ve read my pissy and cynical columns on the Internet while they were doing their so-called family research. And yes, I do truly hope they are on the Internet and find this even, because pay close attention kids, I’m coming to town very soon and your arse is mine. I’m a member of the British Charitable Society and as such, have a legal record of every single person in the U.S. who is either British or was born to British parents as these say they were (conveniently, the parents are dead). I can easily check this and I will and since their last name is Italian and we have no Italians in our family (being entirely Celtic), then a relationship is highly doubtful. But again, that my grandmother cannot see this, or, out of apathy and depression is so lonely that she does not want to see this, is a big problem and one that we will have to face.
This means some tough conversations, it means confrontation and the hard truth; it means shattering her illusion that these are just nice people because from the research I have done already, the fact that they are not related is enough to know that they lie and as such, are almost certainly not nice people. Maybe I’m wrong. That would be great. But I doubt it.
I hate to side with anyone who wants my grandmother in a home, and I know my own mother does not truly want this, but like me, she wants to be sure that her mother and again, in many ways my mother too, is protected and safe. We want to keep her out of harm’s way and we want to shield her, and by god, I would shield her with my body if it came to that. I would take a bullet for her, and that much I mean sincerely.
There is a fine line between respecting your elders and knowing that a certain age, they have perhaps a disadvantage that comes with age; a weakness that is too easily preyed on loneliness, sorrow, or physical ailments at work, like dementia or Alzheimer’s things that require the aide of others to help you make decisions. Accept that help, and you can still live in your own house and independently without having to turn to assisted living. As in everything in life, it is a balance, and we come to the table each with our own opinion and our suspicions and our history of what has been done to us. We must be careful not to project our own bad experience of the past onto another’s situation in the present because likely, it is not the same thing. It is wise to wait and see, but not wait too long, but go out and do the work, as I’m doing now, to find the fact of the matter so that you can take the appropriate action. I want to respect my grandmother, and I will, but I still have to let her know that this time anyway, she made the wrong decision. That she, and this pains me, is old enough now that there are those who have no respect and will and are taking advantage of her. These are hard things to say, but we say them out of respect, and as long as we come to the table with that attitude, then perhaps when we stand up the respect remains and we have not shamed anyone’s pride.Powered by Sidelines