I had a cathartic experience taking care of my grandmother for two weeks in September 2016.
At this stage (and by stage I mean age) in my life, changes or rather, shifts in my perspective are noticeable and noteworthy. They do not just happen anymore, where I wonder, when did I become like this or when did my mindset change. I guess I have become more self-aware, and that is definitely a good thing. So now I can say there has been a palpable shift in my perspective since my two week hiatus.
Prior to going to Jamaica I had a few months of intense mental stress, Grandma had been ill since about June, and the details around her care could be tricky at times. She kept having to do new and follow-up procedures from time to time, her referrals became more complicated and the doctors took what felt like a multiple choice quiz in making their diagnoses the result of which was literally “all of the above”. In the days leading up to her hospitalization, we would talk several times per day and she sounded weaker, and something else that took me a while to identify because I would never have associated this word with Estelle: scared! She sounded scared. One Wednesday morning, after listening to her gasp for air as she spoke on the phone and tell me how weak she was and that she had had chest pains and numbness in her arms the night before, my indefatigable, formidable giant of a grandmother, became fallible. It actually occurred to me that she may die at 92 years old.
Of course I had a meltdown, a complete loss of air of my own, I felt like I had been sucker punched, and after I calmly hung up the phone as she left for the doctor’s office, I blindly walked to the nearest washroom at work and bawled as if she had actually died. I would have a few more of those in the days leading up to my flight home.
But I digress, that was not the point of this post. By the day of my newly changed flight (I LOVE @JETBLUE!!) My Grandmother had gotten so much worse that she was being rushed to the hospital by (all) my aunts in Jamaica who, after their own meltdowns had converged on her house to see to her. Imagine me, waiting for a slow 6 hours to board the flight knowing that the love of my life was being admitted to – not the most fancy but the closest to her home – hospital. The level and range of emotions I carried in my body on that day, I cannot express. I must be an emotional contortionist to have come back to my full self after that experience. But I did not return to ‘normal’. This is where the shift came in.
My grandmother spent three days in the hospital; I spent 15 days in Jamaica and most of those days (minus a few hours) were spent with her. I do not have the words to express how I feel about this time that went by too quickly. See, I was raised by my grandmother since I was an infant, but I must not have spent this much time with her in my adult life. Yeah, we spoke practically every day but I would say in the last 20 years, I only spent short periods of busy days or weeks with her; when she spent time in my home, I would go to work in the days. So there were a few things that were different about this trip. First, Gram was not her usual strong and in-control self, which meant that she allowed us (my aunts and I) to take care of her without much of a fuss; and I was literally doing nothing else but see to her needs. It was blissful! I barely used my phone, I did not go on the web unless I left the house, I didn’t read, watch or listen to the news, I was completely oblivious to the world outside the house and my family that was nearby. By day ten, I decided that I must make an effort, for my own health and sanity (yes, I am being dramatic) to do this complete shutting down and take an “off the grid getaway” at least once per year. The results are not guaranteed, but man, are they gratifying!
The second and perhaps the most important lesson was the shift of focus from myself, from the hustle and noise of demands and obligations, and the complete focus of taking care of someone else’s needs. Not just anyone else, someone who had for years given her energy and attention to me and her entire family without ever taking a pause; for those two weeks, she never made any demands and barely gave any orders but was a joy to be around and I was happily at her beck (tiny bell included) and call.
I didn’t want to leave, leave her or leave the space I had carved out for myself in my soul that I knew would begin to shrink the moment I set foot on my return flight. I came back home and tried to hold on to that complete peace but felt it slipping away with each passing hour. But not all is lost. I have come back with the determination to be more attentive to my needs, my need for peace and quiet time, to take care of my physical and emotional health and not respond to every single need that could demand my attention. I have consciously shifted away from being torpedoed by circumstances that keeps me blinded with debris for days and weeks at a time. I must keep a clear view of what is important: maintaining my connection to my Heavenly Father and with my family and friends, but also with my own emotional compass. We all have our own personal ways of achieving and maintaining these relationships; it is not my goal to tell you how to achieve the stability and peace that result from practicing this level of awareness, just to remind you that it is achievable.
I will keep taking notes from the volumes that make up the book of my grandmother’s life, but especially this chapter where she is in her second childhood: she laughs and laughs hard at almost anything and anyone, especially herself. She does not take herself too seriously; she accepts help; she is at peace; and her favorite conversations are about the goodness of Yahweh (GOD)! Perhaps this is how we become as little children in His eyes (childlike but not childish), looking at the world with wonder and not fear, understanding that all is well and all will be well, because there is someone greater, wiser and more powerful than us who cares and watches over us. Isaiah 26:3 Amplified is my new mantra:
You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You.
It is a shift I hope to maintain, one that I may lose or gain more traction in, but I know now that I can always find it again in the solitude of His presence, in caring for another human being just because you love them and by paying attention to my own spiritual and emotional needs. How do you maintain your peace?