Here is Part 2, the remainder of my story about being the caregiver for my 103 year old grandmother.
In the first part I explained that my mother and I took care of my grandmother for 11 years. Her only alternative would have been assisted living, or more likely a combination of that and a nursing home, since she did have a heart attack at one point. The higher costs of those would have drained her savings completely, despite her relatively decent monthly income.
So, even though she was saving a considerable amount of money by living with us, and had a much better quality of life pampered by two “attendants” and companions, a huge private space, a pet dog, and essentially had everything her way, she insisted on seeing her life there in terms of “I’m paying too much!” She was constantly complaining about that, and punishing my mother for the tiniest thing.
Her attitude was truly amazing because while there are so many serious external problems in the world: war, disease, famine, crime, etc, my grandmother was protected from all of them. I really believe that 99% of all people in their 90’s would have been delighted to be in her shoes. Of course, getting old is no picnic, but allowing for that, she had it made.
I just want to write a little about my mother, since she was a key figure in this story.
My mother had a pretty hard life. My father was an abusive alcoholic who would often come home drunk and scream the most disgusting insults at her until dawn. He would degrade her in public, even hit her, and it was unbearable. After almost 20 years of that, she divorced him and had the responsibility of raising the kids on her own. Child support never came, so she had to make it just with her meager skills as an office clerk. But somehow she parlayed that into a position of executive secretary at a hotel, and when the home office realized that she was effectively running the place instead of their goof-off manager, they gave her a chance to be a hotel manager if she would move to the East coast. She took the opportunity and had a successful career in hotels, including being a regional manager at the high point. That kind of work required frequent moves, but it’s the price you pay. Her management style was to cultivate key loyal employees who became close with her like a family.
My point here is to establish that she was successful and respected, and not a liar, nor a cheater, nor a crook of any kind. And that she did not deserve to finish up her life being browbeaten by my grandmother.
For anyone focusing on the monetary aspects of this story, it was never supposed to be about that. I mentioned that my mother took Grandma often to dinner theatre, well she even took us all to Broadway and we got to see Jerry Orbach singing and tap dancing in 42nd Street.
My grandmother used to watch Chef Jean-Pierre on PBS and liked him a lot, so on her 95th birthday my mother had a nice surprise for her. We all got into a rented van for a trip to his 5 star restaurant “The Left Bank” in Fort Lauderdale. Wanna guess who came over to wish Grandma a happy birthday?
Getting back to the story, the 9 or 10 months between my mother’s lung cancer diagnosis and her eventual death were really demanding. She was in and out of the hospital 5 times, had chemo, radiation, many doctor visits, constant deliveries of oxygen, the works. I took care of everything, and made sure that Grandma got all her meals and was not alone too much either. Very little sleep, since I always wanted to peek in on my mother a couple of times per night. In between all that, I was also researching the medical angles re lung cancer hoping for a miracle.
So my whole life for that period was Mom, Grandma, housework, yardwork, and studying.
If I had had any inkling that my grandmother might take away those CD’s in my name, I could have protected myself by insisting that my sister come over a couple of days per week, allowing me to work part time. But because my mother and I were both honest, I just ASSUMED that my grandmother would be as well, and that once we got thru the crisis, we would work things out fairly. In other words, I did not spend any time visualizing, planning, or negotiating our future life in the event of my mother’s death.
I explained in Part 1 that the loss of my mother’s income forced me to cash in a CD to pay our mortgage and other bills. I discussed the situation with my sister and her husband, and they agreed that I had no choice other than “Pay the bills now, explain later.”
Maybe you are wondering why I couldn’t just come clean with my grandmother at the time - honesty being the best policy. Well, simply put, you just cannot reason with her. I couldn’t say, “Hey Grandma, remember how you agreed to contribute $1200 per month toward expenses when you moved in 11 years ago? Well, there’s this thing called inflation, and that means that when you punished my mother by paying only $1000 or $800 - depending on your mood - it sometimes worked out to be EFFECTIVELY half of what it should have been. We never bothered you about that, but because of it my mother ended up in credit card debt, and I am in financial trouble, too.” Anyway, it would have pointless to explain, especially in the numbing grief just after the funeral. I know my grandmother very well, and she would have just ended up accusing my mother of being a crook. To prove my point, when I eventually did explain it to her, I was the crook, and she took away the CD’s that had been promised to me.