Old people are great — if they don’t live with you

Is Grandma "a sweet old lady who just needs a friend." or "a cranky old lady with no social skills who demands to be taken care of." It depends on whether you can visit then drop her off or you're her primary caretaker.

Is Grandma “a sweet old lady who just needs a friend,” or “a demanding, anachronistic battle-axe devoid of social skills.” It depends whether you can drop in for a visit or you’re her primary caretaker.

I used to like old people.

I held doors for them and picked things up when they dropped them at the store. I checked on them when they lived next door and did odd chores like dishes and taking out the trash. I’m still polite to elderly strangers. It’s the one in my basement I have a problem with.

Of all the things that irritate me about Grandma — and there are a lot — it’s her sense of entitlement that bugs me the most. This nagging angel/devil pair in my head take turns whispering, “She took care of you when you were young. Turnabout is fair play.” and, “When you were a kid you appreciated everything she did for you. I can’t remember the last time she said thank you, can you?”

I’ve always been big on manners — my own, my children’s, even strangers’. It’s not uncommon for me to loudly say “You’re welcome,” when I hold a door for someone who doesn’t acknowledge it. So when I spend a few hours shopping for Grandma and delivering everything to her, I expect a “Thank you!” not a “Where’s my credit card!” The older she gets, the ruder she is. She is not someone I would check on if I lived next door.

Except if I were her neighbor, Grandma would be nice to me. I know this because everybody else who helps her out gets thank yous … tips for chores … offers to pay for gas … I don’t even think this is a conscious decision on her part. I think she reasons she took care of four generations, and by god now someone’s gonna take care of her. I just happened to win the draw.

Luckily, one of Grandma’s drivers seems to have taken a shine to her. Initially Shelly hanging around after she dropped Grandma off made me suspicious. “Does she think I’m not taking care of her? Is she a career criminal who knocks old ladies in the head and steals their money? Why on Earth would she sit down there with Grandma, who makes all kinds of unpleasant noises and retells stories that even new acquaintances have already heard 20 times?” I kept asking myself.

I guess Shelly just likes old people, because today she called Grandma to check in on her. Grandma’s doctor switched her to Pradaxa, which means goodbye Warfarin and bi-weekly lab checks. It also means Grandma doesn’t see Shelly as often. I actually thought about asking Grandma if she wanted Shelly to stop by and visit with her a spell — that’s Grandma-ese for come over and hang out. But Shelly beat me to it.

Grandma’s friend is coming over Sunday, and they’re going out for ice cream. Bless their hearts. I’ll nonchalantly grab the Kleenex ear flap out of Grandma’s hat as she leaves so she doesn’t look completely bonkers. And later, when I’m on my way downstairs to clean up Grandma’s routine messes and I hear her tell Shelly thanks for stopping by, I’ll remind the voices in my head, “Don’t worry. She’s just being nice because that’s not her granddaughter.”

Someone told me this post was mean, so I immediately took it down. But after some minor edits and a second opinion, I think it’s OK to leave up. For years I’ve felt guilty about being a “reluctant caregiver” — I’ve never denied I’m primarily motivated by obligation, not love. I do still love my Grandma, but she’s gone. And the person who replaced her is a real pain in the ass.

But after reading Paula Span’s article, I’ve decided it’s OK to feel this way:

“We need to allow people to be reluctant,” she said. “It means they’re dutiful; they’re responsible. Those are admirable qualities.”

See? I’m not mean. I’m admirable. Save the guilt trips, haters.

Image credit: genika / 123RF Stock Photo


14 thoughts on “Old people are great — if they don’t live with you

  1. Someone told you this was mean? That’s hogwash! I think you’re a frickin’ saint. Not a lot of people would do what you’re doing right now!

    • Thanks Arden. Compared to my Mom I AM a saint — she and Grandma had a terrible relationship. If those two were growing old together they’d have a reality show lol. When I signed up I really didn’t think she’d last this long. Now I’m just hoping for divine intervention to work its magic in the next year or so — that way Chloe can graduate, Grandma can be at peace and I can finally have some FREE-dum. Machu Pichu is calling my name and I’ve already decided I’m rewarding myself with a trip there once I’m done being admirable. 🙂

  2. I don’t think your blog was mean. Just truthful. I also took care of my grandmother. She could be frustrating, irritating and appeared unappreciative. However, now I wish I could and would have spent more time with her. She had lived a life I cannot appreciate. She emigrated from Sweden and traveled across the US in the 1890’s. I wish I had asked her about her experiences. Now I am old. I try not to be irritating to those around me but they are young. I’m sure it is a generational thing. Your grandmother probably appreciated all you did for her. Perhaps she just wasn’t comfortable telling you.

  3. I guess I’m lucky because my mother is polite to a fault and there is no end to her complimentary comments. A spoon full of sugar… She does, however, have little tolerance for people who do not conform to her expectations for similar good manners. It is a good object lesson for me to curb that trait in myself.

  4. Your post isn’t at all mean and you shouldn’t feel remotely guilty – nor should you quietly seethe when your Grandma can’t find the decency to say a simple please, thanks or kiss my ass. Older people can behave like trolls to their families and usually, the closer they are to the person, the worse their behaviour. They tend to do it because they know they can get away with it – hence why they’re often so nice to other people.

    When she greets you with a “Where’s my credit card?” when you’ve been shopping, don’t be frightened to do the old “Yeah you’re WELCOME Grandma” as you would with anyone else because being old doesn’t give her the right to be downright rude.

    • She really has taken care of four generations — her own mom, mine, me and my daughters. So she’s more than entitled to be taken care of now. I just wish she’d be nicer sometimes. I’m sure she’d say the same about me 🙂

      I just read a report last night about 11 states getting Fs for their nursing home conditions. The things caught on camera are terrible; nobody should be treated that way. As cantankerous as Grandma can be, I just hope I can keep her here. God knows how someone who doesn’t love her would react to her bad manners.

      • I’m not disputing that she’s done her bit and deserves to be respected and cared for at all. What I’m saying is that there’s nothing wrong with just reminding her once in a while when she’s having a pop at you that you’re doing your best and are no less deserving of a pinch of courtesy and respect as anyone else.

        What you’re doing for your Grandma is admirable and she’s no doubt having a hard time accepting her age, abilities and limitations – having always been the one doing the caring. I just know from experience that it’s extremely common for older relatives to take out their frustration on family carers which makes an already tough job unnecessarily tougher. Let your Grandma know you want her at home and for as long as its possible but it’d be easier and far more pleasant if she met you half way and at least tried being courteous.

        You might even find she has a new found respect for you having told her outright she’s being a pain in the arse! I’ve met hundreds of older people whose families were dropped on when I went “Hey! I’m not here for that Mrs so please don’t use that sort of language – OK?” and from that point onwards we were the best of friends. 😀

        You’re doing a good job regardless of what you might sometimes think so go easy on yourself. 🙂

  5. It’s an unbelievably hard job which is why I have the greatest respect for anyone that cares for a relative at home.

    • It really is hard. Her friend told me in May when we had the intervention that made me start this blog “you knew what you were getting into when she moved in.” No, I really had no idea. I’ve never been around old people more than to just check in on them and do a few chores.

      At this point I bathe her, pay her bills, clean, do laundry, do her shopping, pick up meds, administer meds, arrange doctor appointments, arrange drivers when I can’t take her … the only thing she still does is feed herself. I honestly don’t know how people do it when you have the added complications of major illnesses like cancer or Alzheimer’s. 😦

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