When I think of interventions, I think of addiction. Bad relationships. Addiction to bad relationships. But not grandmas.
After 7 years of cohabitation, a handful of hospital stays and one of her cat’s untimely deaths, I’ve learned to live with my 88-year-old Grandma’s idiosyncracies. Sometimes begrudgingly, often with help from my partner Tam and my youngest daughter, Chloe, but I live with them. Grandma was pretty self-sufficient when she moved in. But little by little it’s reached the point where we can’t just buy her groceries and do some laundry now and then. Making the transition from grandchild to caretaker hasn’t been easy for either of us. I knew I was in for a fight, and I needed backup.
So … a couple of Sundays ago I, along with Tam and Grandma’s friend Eileen, plotted an intervention. After discussing strategy we went down to the basement, Grandma’s turf. It’s finished — no exposed pipes or garage sale rejects. But she was living knee-deep in dust, cat hair and plenty of cobwebs, and it had to change.
Eileen isn’t timid, and I was happy to let her do most of the talking. She and Grandma worked together back at Ma Bell in the ’70s, and they’ve known each other longer than I’ve been alive. Grandma lived with her for about six months after my Grandpa died back in 2005, so when I called her and asked her to come, she understood why.
We started with bathing. When I broached the subject earlier by myself, she let me know she’d been taking plenty of sponge baths. And if they were good enough back on the farm, by god they’re good enough now. Eileen got the same argument, but she nipped it in bud. “We went ’round about this when you lived with me, Margaret. I told you then and I’m telling you now, a shower. Every three days.” What about the cold? What about slipping and falling? Eileen shot down every objection ’til Grandma gave up and agreed.
Next came changing her clothes. “Clean clothes every day, Margaret. Mandy (she and my Grandma are the last two people on Earth who call me by my childhood nickname) will put a basket down here, and you need to put your clothes in there every day.” Grandma bargained for every other day but Eileen shot her down. Eventually she gave in on that too, but I knew once her friend was gone it was still going to be hard to get her to hand over her polyester slacks cut at the waist and flowery sweatshirts with tissues tucked in the sleeves more than a few times a week. Still, it was a start.
The rules kept coming. Under my breath I urged Eileen to talk about Grandma’s living quarters. For years now she’s insisted on sleeping in her recliner. Her “bedding,” an old poncho thrown over the back and some hairy, well-worn blankets needed an industrial-strength washing. She had to let us dust and vacuum regularly too. She halfheartedly agreed, but I could see her wheels spinning, thinking up excuses to chase us off when the time came. That had worked before. But she truly was oblivious to her living conditions. And I didn’t want one of her home health care nurses to turn me in for letting her live like a hobo. I rolled my eyes, determined to stay a step ahead of whatever she thought up.
Once the lecture was over, we all reassured her how much we loved her. I reached down and tried to hug her bony old shoulders, prompting an exaggerated yelp from her when I accidentally brushed her hand. Finally, Eileen said her goodbyes and went home, while Tam and I trudged back upstairs, contemplating our nice long to-do list. That’s when I realized this whole ordeal was like punishing one of my kids. I could lay down the law, but then it was up to me to enforce it. In my mind I could see Grandma hunched over in her chair, indignant about her sponge baths and thinking of ways to wear me down. But I also had a good idea where things were headed if we didn’t step in.
All right then, I said to myself. Game on, Grandma.