As far back as I can remember, my family was taking care of someone. A few months after my parents were married, Dad’s mother passed away and Dad took in his father and two brothers. My mother learned her fate as a caretaker early in her married life. But she was young and in love and took it all in stride. However, there were times when she longed for privacy. Especially when she and Dad gave up their bedroom and slept on the couch in the living room---a major sacrifice for a newlywed couple. Even their lovemaking had to wait until everyone was asleep, so they could steal a few moments of privacy. I doubt that many young couples today would sacrifice their room or assume so much responsibility. But that is the way that my parents generation was raised; you always took care of your family, no matter what.
As I was growing up, I too learned how to care for others. My sister was born when I was eleven. Naturally, I was eager to help Mother take care of her; it was like having a live baby doll. It was fun at first, but child care soon lost its thrill. Then she was just my little sister who I had to look after.
Our family included my two brothers, one two years older and one two years younger , my sister who was 11 years younger and me. Of course, like most boys they fought all the time and we got into trouble, not serious trouble, though, mostly for avoiding our chores or fighting with each other.
My two uncles lived with us from time to time along with Grandpa, then Grandmother on Mom’s side moved in. It seemed to be one person after another, year after year. It was a big job learning to care for each of them and each one’s particular problems.
My grandmother posed special challenges. She was very religious and she didn’t approve of many of our favorite radio programs. Much to our dismay she would turn off The Shadow or Gangbusters mid-program, because she deemed them too violent.
Grandma lived with us for years before she became bedridden and lost most of her sight. She would sit for hours reading her Bible. When she became too ill to read she liked to have me read to her. I enjoyed it also, for I was raised in the Lutheran church and knew my Bible well. I read until she fell asleep, then place the Bible on her lap with her hands on top of it. She liked that, and kept her Bible with her at all times.
I inherited Grandma’s Bible when she passed on, and it brings back memories of reading to her, the part of her caregiving that I liked most. She was a very special person, with wonderful stories of her home in Denmark.
Grandma’s health wasn’t too good toward the end. She was terribily confused and forgetful. She wouldn’t recognize me or my mother at times and often thought we were trying to kill her. She fought us tooth and nail when we came in to tend to her needs. For a frail old woman she packed a pretty mean wallop. But, we had to overlook her actions because of her condition.
I learned how to give her a bath without embarrassing her by watching Mom in action, and, of course, learned the bedpan routine, She joined us at the table and always said grace. Toward the end of her life she took her meals in her room, until finally we had to feed her. In those days no one came in to help you, you simply did the best you could. You would only put your loved one in a nursing home when it was absolutely necessary. I think that is still the best way.
As a teenage it was hard to entertain with Grandma there and before her it was Grandpa, with his smelly pipe and his crazy sense of humor.
Uncles, aunts, grandparents, we were never a small family. There was always someone special to care for. As if that wasn’t enough, Mom took in boarders from time to time to supplement our income. She also took in foster children from broken homes. It was short-term care, but these children got all the love and attention that our own family received.
We were a very happy, well-adjusted family, in spite of all the extra people packed in our house all the time---or should I say because of all the people we had in our house all the time?