Love, Life Stories

Caring for my grandmother has made me stronger than I ever thought possible

Even when my anxiety and my fears overwhelm me, I know I can power through for her.

“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” she whispers in a voice that always warbles.

I just smile and pat her skinny arm, reassuring her that I’m there. I’m not sure how to respond to her, but we’re comfortable sitting together in silence so that’s what we do. Sometimes she mesmerizes me with her haunting loveliness. I find myself studying every visible age spot as if they’re forgotten islands on an ancient map. Her dark eyes are magnified behind a pair of glasses that are too large for her angular face, and her hair resembles a puffy white cloud. She’s my ninety-five-year-old child and I love her more than I can say, but sometimes she frightens me.

She’s not really my child of course, but I’m more like a watchful parent than a doting granddaughter. I live in the apartment above hers and the house we share has been in our family for years. I assist her with her finances, I’m there if she falls in the middle of the night, and I check in on her almost every day. She scares me because I feel responsible for her well-being, and I’m not sure I’m fit enough to take care of her.   

I have a deep-seated fear of throwing up. I don’t like to see people vomit and I get anxious whenever someone tells me they’re recovering from the stomach flu. It’s a common phobia, but it’s not well-publicized like the fear of spiders or clowns. Though the rational side of me agrees it’s better to upchuck the poison than keep it in, when I’m in the midst of a panic attack, I will do anything it takes to will away the urge to vomit. Even smelling vomit or an off odor from a pungent meal can throw me off and send me into a full-fledged panic attack. It’s horrible because I want to have kids someday, but I don’t want to run and lock myself in a separate room when they need me to comfort them.

[bctt tweet=”I have a deep-seated fear of throwing up.” username=”wearethetempest”]

My grandmother is aware of my phobia, so sometimes she chooses to call another person for help. It pains me because I want to be there for her, but I know she’s just trying not to stress me out. Though sickness scares me, I’m terrified to wake up and find her unresponsive in her bed. She’s going to be 96 years old in August, and I’m not sure how much longer she’ll be in this world.

My grandmother’s such a tiny woman I’m afraid a strong gust of wind will carry her into the clouds. I’m scared death will take her in the night and I won’t be there to comfort her as she passes from one realm into the next. Whenever she looks at me from across the room, her eyes as big as tea cup saucers, I can tell what’s going on in her mind. The state of the world terrifies her, so she refuses to leave the comfort of her home unless it’s for a routine doctor’s visit. She’s never even been inside my apartment because it’s not easy for her to climb the stairs.

One time, she pressed the button on her Life Alert device in the middle of the night. The device was programmed to call my cell phone. I went running downstairs and found her on the floor wedged between her bed and portable toilet. Her nightgown was up around her waist and, as I was pulling it back down, I asked if she was in pain about three or four times. She was in a bit of pain, but I was afraid to lift her up because I didn’t want to hurt her. My fiancé, who lives upstairs with me, had to stand her up and hold her to keep her steady. I put her to bed like she was a small child and got her a glass of water. She asked me to stay with her until she was calm.

[bctt tweet=”I’m scared death will take her in the night and I won’t be there to comfort her.” username=”wearethetempest”]

The morning she lost control of her bowels was one of the hardest days of my life. I planned on having breakfast with her, as I often do on the weekends. I knew how she took her tea and how much butter she liked on her toast. When I opened the door that connected our apartments, I was hit by a powerful smell. My grandmother was ill and there was no one around but me.

I was scared out of my mind because I was afraid of catching whatever she had. My heart fluttered in my chest as I waffled back and forth on whether I should call for help or not. The rancid smell had permeated the whole apartment. I was terrified to see the mess on the floor. I was terrified to see what kind of state she was in. I’m not sure what happened, but I tapped into something deep inside myself. I was a hell of a lot stronger than I thought I was. Instead of succumbing to a panic attack, which wouldn’t have helped either one of us, I walked into her bedroom without fear.

I remember thinking she looked so small in her bed, a doll among pillows. She was unable to make it to the bathroom or the portable toilet, which she kept by her bed. I soothed her with consoling words as I stripped the stinking sheets from her bed. She wasn’t embarrassed around me. She told me that she was having digestive problems for a few hours. I walked her to the couch in the living room, got her a cold glass of water, and turned on her television. While she was occupied with some sensational story on the news, I filled a bucket with soap and hot water and went to work.

[bctt tweet=”I remember thinking she looked so small in her bed, a doll among pillows.” username=”wearethetempest”]

The smell was so strong I had to breathe through my mouth. As I scrubbed the shit from the carpet, my body rocking back and forth, my mind began to drift. I was not an affectionate kid, but my grandmother was a special person. She always had permission to rub my back and play with my hair. It was a sweet pleasure we shared, like a piece of chocolate hidden away in some nondescript tin. I’ve learned a lot about her since then.

When she opened up to me about her complicated relationship with her mother, who was a cold and eccentric person, I was astounded by her strength. Her mother refused to reveal her age to anyone and she never talked much about her past. My grandmother didn’t know her mother’s age until her birth date was engraved on her gravestone. Her mother also never talked to her about periods. It was her aunt who taught her about periods and how to use a sanitary belt. I’ve not only inherited her love of reading, I’ve inherited her strength and resilience as well.

[bctt tweet=” The future is scary, but there’s no way for me control it. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

These moments with my grandmother may not always be pleasant, but they’re still moments, and that means something. I got engaged two months ago and I’m not sure she’ll be at my wedding, but I’m so happy she got to see the pear shaped diamond on my finger. Sometimes she falls asleep on the couch late at night and I have to be the one to put her to bed, but at least I know she’s safe and warm. The future is scary, but there’s no way for me control it. I have no choice but to welcome whatever the future throws at me. My anxiety pulverizes me some days, obliterates me even, but I know I can power through. I’m much stronger than I realize.