His paternal grandfather, Grandpa Hsiang-Hsien, is now in a nursing home. He had a live-in caretaker for the last two years, but it has gotten too dangerous and just too much to handle even for a caretaker. He's a former World and Olympic champion weightlifter, he's not a small guy. If he's having trouble walking, it will take two strong people who absolutely know what they're doing to help him move from one room to another... NEVERMIND navigating the uneven concrete flight of stairs.
Chinese have never been keen on handing over the elderly to nursing homes. But I think we have to begin to understand that sometimes, there's just no two ways about it. We all hope to go peacefully in our sleep, in perfect health to the end, but that doesn't always happen.
My husband and I have been talking about this since his Grandma Jing-Tsun got sick for the last time. I guess older generations don't want outsiders to be taking care of them; they want to be taken care of by family. But the two of us decided that it's really too much for family. We would much rather pay professionals and other people do the caretaking chores.
There is tremendous emotional stress of interacting with someone with deteriorating mental and physical capacity, especially if you knew them when they were fit and able. And that's even with no devastating, terminal illness involved.
They're constantly blaming everyone for stealing their money or personal belongings. The loss of bladder and bowel control, the constant soiling of clothes and bedsheets. The adult diapers, though amusingly named 《包大人》, really don't cut it. The hallucinations, the insomnia and drugs upon drugs upon drugs, prescription upon prescription upon prescription. It's stressful when the drugs don't work and you worry about them always being in a drugged up state when the drugs do work.
And it isn't their fault. They can't help it.
Grandma Xiao-E ... *HUGE SIGH* ... just escaped out of their house around midnight last night. She went out through the back door, out the skinny unlit back alley. There's a house under construction so there are all kinds of sharp and jagged edged things laying around back there too.
They went looking for her for some hours before she was found. There's a private car/taxi transportation service nearby that they've become friends with because they always call them for rides. The owner and his wife saw her walking around alone in the dark, recognized her, followed her for a while and eventually brought her home. It's not even worth it at this point to ask her why she left or whatever.
Based on some things she said to 三姨 Aunt #3 earlier that evening, they're thinking that she didn't even recognize that she was home or that "that woman in the house" was her daughter. She _has_ shown signs of not recognizing her own home before in the past.
At her age, most of her closest friends are gone. I can only imagine that making new friends is tough, everyone's younger than she is and there's almost a generation gap between her and the other seniors. She has four loving daughters, many grandchildren and lots of great-grandchildren.
But the one thing that bothers her the most is her past. She still has a lot of hurt from the way her husband's family [mis]treated her. In a war-torn China, almost everyone in the older generations have lived through at least one World War, famine, poverty and economic depression. In those conditions, jealousy, greed, selfishness and general malice are rampant.
She still holds passionate grudges against people who are already long dead. She still stresses over money even though there's no need to. Her financial situation is comfortable and her daughters are more than generous to her. Grandma Xiao-E rails on and on that she's not wealthy. She stresses about the fact that she has no son. ... ... ... If you knew 三姨, you'd know that she's about equal to TWO SONS in talent, ability, intelligence, earning capacity (though 三姨 is retired now), sheer determination and filial piety.
Grandma Xiao-E's spill-over issues come into play multiple times a day with 三姨, who is her primary caretaker. It causes them both an enormous amount of unneccessary stress. She lives with her other daughters, 大姨 Aunt #1 and 二姨 Aunt #2, on a rotational basis as well when 三姨 can't take it anymore. She takes her paranoia and negative stress with her wherever she goes. It's really sad.
It's made me realize that aging gracefully is not just a physical thing. Being healthy is important, but in times of diminishing mental, emotional, psychological capacity, it's important to have hobbies and activities that make you happy. It's also important to carry as little emotional burden as possible.
Aging gracefully, to me, means dealing with my issues as much as I can and as soon as possible. Resolve my hurt, if not with the other person, then at least in my own heart. Be grateful it's not worse.
Longevity was never supposed to be an ironic or miserable thing.