Remembering My Mother and Sharing Her Attitude of Gratitude

I’ve written about my mom before, but this one is a little different. Kind of like my mom was. Born in 1944, she was a ‘tweener’ baby. Not a war baby and not a baby boomer – just in between. I think technically her generation was called the Silent Generation because, well, most were not given a voice in major politics or society of their time. It was interesting listening to her talk about being part of a gap generation that wasn’t born due to war yet wasn’t part of that ‘me’ generation that followed the end of World War II.

 

My mom, my uncle, my Bubbie and Zadie circa 1955

My mom grew up the child of two Depression-era parents, both born in 1920. Her dad lied about his age to join the war with his friends, and spent 36 years as a soldier having taken part in a number of major conflicts, most notably The Battle of Guadalcanal where his ship was bombed and eventually sunk. My mom and her brother were inseparable and it showed in their relationship until her death in 1991. My mom’s best friend was her father, for whom BabyGirl is named. And that friendship was evident any time you saw them together.

My grandpa and my mom often didn’t have to speak to communicate. For the longest time, I truly believed they could read each other’s mind. And when my mom died, I think part of my grandfather did too. My grandfather was a prolific writer, and despite us living just a few miles away, he and my mom used to write each other letters and send each other cards all the time. They were often just funny stories or newspaper clippings with odd news. If the internet or smart phones had existed for them I bet they’d have mastered instant messaging and texting very quickly.

There are many traits about my mom that made her special. The one that stands out, though, is her gratitude. My mother was thankful for so much, despite the challenges she faced. There were years throughout my childhood where my mom was not well at all, but I don’t ever remember her complaining or wondering why her. She worked and went to nursing school, requiring her to find other arrangements for me and my brother to live so we wouldn’t be taken away from her. It wasn’t optimal but it worked. She wasn’t angry or sad that the system didn’t work with her, she was thankful that there were options for her that may not have existed for the women who came before her.

People took advantage of my mom because she was ‘too nice’. It’s a trait I inherited. My mother saw the good in people. She believed in the goodness of humanity and even though she didn’t know what the Law of Attraction was she embodied it. When my mother had the stroke that was the reason for her final hospital stay, she lost her ability to speak. But she figured out how to communicate in some way to make sure others knew how grateful she was to still be alive. But she also made it clear that she was thankful for the 47 years she had, if her final breaths were on the horizon. Her last spoken words to me were ‘I love you’. Six weeks later she died – alone. She waited for my brother and my dad to leave for the night. I had already said my goodbye’s days before.

In the Jewish tradition, each year on the anniversary of a loved-one’s death a memorial prayer is said. Most years, the Jewish calendar coincides with the secular calendar. The calendars don’t mesh so it seems like the Jewish dates jump around. Which is why about every 5-7 years there appears to be a huge gap between secular dates and Jewish dates. This year for my mom’s memorial (her Yahrtzeit which means ‘Time of Year’ in Yiddish) comes nearly 3 weeks after the secular date of death.

Because I don’t often acknowledge her death on the secular date, the 20th anniversary came and went without much sadness. I felt relief that I wasn’t a blathering mess on November 6th. But here it is, days away from the Jewish memorial and I’m really sad and I miss her infinitely more than I ever thought I would after 20 years.

At 42 years old, my mom’s been gone nearly half my life. Yet I can still hear her voice and often still ‘see’ her when I’m out and about. My mother believed in the good of humanity and was immensely grateful for the life she had and the contributions she could make. Her funeral was attended by hundreds of people, and there are still times I get notes from people who knew her who just want to tell me how much they, too, miss her.

I guess it’s fitting that the 20th anniversary of her passing will be remembered this Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

In memory
Eileen Rae Greenberg-Drachman
1944-1991

Sara

Elder Care: From a granddaughter’s perspective

Bubbe photo

That’s my grandmother, my Bubbe. BabyGirl and I went to visit her in December because she doesn’t like to travel. Actually, she loves to travel. Only traveling now is much more complicated since she needs oxygen at night. And then there is all that TSA stuff. So, we go visit her.

I’ve mentioned my grandma before. Last year she celebrated her 90th birthday. She still lives in the only house I’ve ever known. She and my grandpa had it built in 1968. She’s a very independent woman!

Every few weeks I’ll get a call from my aunt, a neighbor, one of my Grandma’s friends asking if she’s visiting me because they can’t get a hold of her. This has been going on for about six months. And every time I tell them no and reassure them that she’s just fine, having spoken to her just days prior. They’ll sigh a sigh of relief, thank me and assure me they’ll stop by her house to be sure she’s fine.

My grandmother has outlived most people she started life with. She has buried both of her children (my mother had a stroke in her 40s and my uncle died of Lupus-related complications in his early 40s) and her husband. Of her seven siblings, only her ‘baby brother’ remains. And he’s in his 80s.

It’s almost weekly now that my grandma tells me she’s going to a funeral. I guess at 90, that’s just part of life. She has very few friends, peers, still living. Most of her friends are significantly younger. Then again, my grandma doesn’t seem to think she’s really 90!

When you’re 90 and live on your own, most people are in awe. I certainly am! After all she’s lived through the Great Depression, wars, conflicts, and 17 presidents. Woodrow Wilson was president when she was born. She’s seen the world change before her eyes. From no television to the ability to stream live events in the palm of her hand. No telephone to its ubiquity.

Yet here I am, the primary responsible party (I use that term loosely because really, my grandma is very responsible for herself) being bombarded with ‘friends’ and relatives telling me she can’t live on her own any more. They have no real reason for that other than she’s 90 and perceived to be frail.

And while I don’t like when my grandma drives, she is as good a driver as most people out there. Her hearing isn’t as keen as it once was but she’s not a danger. She drives no more crazy than she’s always driven. Actually, I think she’s more cautious now because she realizes her hearing isn’t up to par. Truth be told, she’s never caused an accident in all her driving. She’s been involved in accidents, but never the cause. So she’s got that going for her.

Most of the issues relate to her forgetfulness. Some people try to tell me she has Alzheimers. Far from it! Cancer three times, yes. Alzheimers? No. However, she does have symptoms of vascular┬ádementia. But according to her doctors it’s normal given her medical history. Nothing to worry about they keep saying.

I talk to my grandmother several times a week. Her brother talks to her every day. If ever there is a time we can’t find her for 24 hours straight I can call her local police and they’ll check on her. They know her by name. She bakes treats for the precinct every few weeks. If she hasn’t been by in awhile they stop by. It’s like a TV show when she walks in, balancing two big chocolate cakes – cheers of “Hello, Mrs. Greenberg!”, “So nice to see you, Mrs. Greenberg!” and “Thank you, Mrs. Greenberg!” echo in the stark halls.

But she’s 90, will be 91 in a few months. I know she’s not that same spry young woman who helped raise me. And regardless of my age, to her I’m still a child. Not that I’m incapable, but when it comes to some decisions she wants to make them on her own. Thankfully her brother is there to team up with me to make sure she’s making good decisions.

Our newest issue has to do with her moving out of her home. She doesn’t want to. She see no reason for it. And, honestly, I’m no so sure I disagree. Yes, it’s a lot to deal with. Sure, it is not easy making 3 meals a day. Heck I’m half her age and I have troubles making 3 meals a day! She cares for herself, drives to her appointments, visits and shopping.

Who am I to tell her she has to leave her home? I know she needs some help, but she’s not too keen on that. She keeps forgetting that she’s 90! In her mind she’s still very young. When she turned 90 she told me she was starting to feel old. Starting!

I’ve watched as some of my friends have had to find care for their aging parents. I’ve helped them pour over brochures of what look like Disney for the senior set. It’s very different because this is my grandmother, not my mother. For my uncle it’s a challenge as well because it’s his big sister. The dynamic is very different. But our desire for them to be safe is the same.

I knew this time would come. Actually I’ve been listening to people tell me what to do about it since my grandmother had her last cancer surgery nearly 3 years ago. I’ve been ignoring them for a long time. But now they’re getting very loud.

I have always had a great respect for my friends who care for their aging parents. I’ve watched how they gracefully transitioned from child to caregiver. I’ve taken mental notes, bookmarked websites and have read and read and read. And yet, I’m at a loss as to how to do this dance with my grandmother.

Sara