Grandparent troubles come in threes (long and probably babbling)

In the past week, all three of my remaining grandparents have had some major life changes.

My mom’s parents, the ones who are as independent-minded and crusty as they come, have finally decided to move into an assisted living facility. They spent their entire career traveling all over the U.S. and the world buying and selling art and antiques, making several trips a year to Europe, and didn’t retire until well into their 70s. They are now in their mid-80s, and are getting pretty creaky. My grandfather, against all odds, has survived cancer and brain surgery, although his mind is really going at this point (which is to be expected at this point, after all he’s been through). My grandmother’s vision and hearing are going, and it’s getting more and more difficult and tiring for her to walk even a few yards (she’s already had one knee replacement), let alone run errands, carry groceries, cook, etc.

The precipitating events were a) they burned out the engine on their car, because neither one of them noticed the engine light was on (and honestly, they probably shouldn’t be driving anymore, anyway); and b) a couple of weeks ago, my grandmother handed my grandfather a bag of groceries (a small plastic one, not a big paper one), and he fell over onto the sidewalk. He is extremely stubborn and proud, and he refuses to use his cane, no matter how much we beg, cajole, or yell at him. (The brain surgery of a few years ago was necessitated by a fall; he slipped in the middle of the night walking to the bathroom, whacked himself unconscious on the tile floor, and got up and went back to bed without telling anyone that he’d fallen. Several days later, the hematoma in his brain had created so much pressure that he lost the ability to move his legs, and he had to be carried to the E.R. They also didn’t tell us about his cancer until it was in remission, because they “didn’t want anyone to worry.” I come from a long line of very pigheaded people.)

So yes, they probably need more help around the house than they’re getting. I live 1200 miles away, so I’m feeling pretty helpless right now. My aunts and uncles and cousins will probably help them somewhat, but I don’t know how they are going to wrap everything up that quickly. They are moving in exactly one month and have to get rid of a lot of furniture and personal belongings, plus they have some money for now (and will have some more when they sell their condo), but I don’t know how long it will last them.

My sister and I were talking about it, and we are worried at how it will all play out; they could probably use the cash from the furniture sale, but we are just picturing one aunt and certain cousins who live nearby offering to come “help,” and then my grandmother giving in and making gifts out of some things she should probably sell. I’m not talking about furniture, most of which is new-ish and has no particular sentimental value; I’m talking about the remaining antiques from their business. Some have great sentimental value and should be handed down, but if most of them could be sold and would thereby allow my grandparents some pleasure, either a trip somewhere, or to eat out, or anything that will make their remaining years more pleasurable, then they have certainly earned it!

I have no idea what to do about any of this; my grandmother is trying to put a brave face on things, saying that she’ll be glad to be relieved of cooking for my grandfather in the style to which he has become accustomed, but she is obviously very upset at this change, which was getting pretty inevitable in any case. I think the worst part will be giving up their car. They are both very independent-minded, and I just can’t picture them being unable to go anywhere unless someone comes to pick them up. And there is essentially no public transportation where they live. I think it’s going to drive them bonkers.

And in other exciting developments, my other grandmother ended up in the hospital last week. She was hanging out with my aunt at my aunt’s beach house and whacked her leg on the dishwasher. No big deal for an ordinary person, except she has always had leg problems; in continuing the Luna Leg Curse originated by my late grandfather, at age 50-something she decided to learn to ride a bike, fell, and damn near ripped her foot off. It’s never been the same since. Plus the spot where she broke it is notorious for bad circulation (it’s the same spot I broke mine), so it never healed properly. She’s on coumadin, and so whenever she hurts herself it bleeds more than normal and takes forever to heal. So in addition to her being essentially unable to bear any weight on it, the stupid leg got infected, and she ended up in the hospital on IV antibiotics. She is home now, but again this all calls into question the idea of whether she should be living on her own. She probably shouldn’t, but she doesn’t have a lot of savings, and my father and aunt have so far been unwilling to lay out the cash to get her any real level of assistance. (My aunt could easily afford it, and my father less so, but let’s just say Dad’s side of the family has some pretty fucked-up ideas about money and sharing and leave it at that for now.) Again, I am 850 miles away and unable to do much from here, although at least I will see her in a couple of weeks at my cousin’s wedding (at which she will probably be in a wheelchair).

I know this is all part of the Circle of Life and all that, but tit’s still painful and frustrating to watch, especially when I can’t do much to help because of the distance, etc. Anyone have coping tips for all parties involved? For one thing, my mom wants to go down to FL and “help” my grandparents tidy up their apartment and their affairs (she’s out of work right now), but trust me, all she will do is drive everyone completely bonkers (she is extremely disorganized). I think emotions are running very high, and I’m nervous that there will be a big family blow-out which everyone will regret later and which won’t resolve anything.