Thursday, April 26, 2012

On Death and Dying

This is a very stream-of-consciousness post. My apologies if I seem all over the place. 

My husband's grandmother has cancer. The matriarch of his side of the family. The vibrant almost-90-year-old who's outlived two husbands and a daughter, is getting sick, and it's a scary time. It's also a time when she's getting extra impatient. She wants to meet her grandchildren "before"… And once again we're faced with letting her hope that we're "trying", so she can say her prayers and wish us well, or to tell her that the grandchildren aren't coming.

It's her 87th birthday on Sunday and we'll be celebrating with family. This includes my husband's father and wicked stepmother, his childless aunt and uncle, and, of course, Grandma. I twitch when I start thinking about the questions that are getting harder once again to dodge with a chuckle and a change of subject. We will be finding out on Sunday just how bad the melanoma is, if it has spread and how far. It's a conversation no one wants to have over the phone, but having it over a birthday feast seems a little off-putting too.

I don't know; I suppose it's because we're all getting older, but things have been pretty gloomy and are getting gloomier when it comes to the health questions, and the wondering about what will happen when we, who don't have children, get older.

But then I see my father's brother, the one I can barely stand to call my uncle. He's dying of cancer and probably only has a few weeks left in him. The last family member in my father's generation, he's been kind of a drunk screw-up his whole life. I can't say I love the man, but I do feel for him. Miraculously, his son managed to escape the craziness he and his wives would sow over the years to become a successful theater manager in New York, an outstanding actor married to a beautiful woman who he often shares the stage with. They're great, but their life is in Manhattan. Both working actors, they don't make a lot of money. They can't help with his medical care, keeping food on his table. They're keeping food on their own table. My family is helping where they can, but they have their own massive medical bills to deal with.

I understand being torn, and my father's not a giant broken mess like his brother is. I look at my parents and the thing I'm most scared of is having to take care of my father because something happens to my mother before his illness takes him. We bought a house big enough for Mom to have her own space if she needs it after Dad dies. We've talked about the opposite happening, especially now that my father's illness is under control, and we are unable to form a plan. We feel selfish. Horrible. But we know it's on us. My brother and his wife can't afford to help. It's on us, and we don't want to do it.

Having kids is no guarantee they'll be there for you in your darkest hour, and it's not always because they're bad people. It's far more complicated than good vs. bad. Of course we say we would do what we can to help, but where does that line get drawn? Do we sell our house that we love so much? Do I quit my job and become a caretaker — a job that I am *woefully* unequipped for, emotionally and physically — or do we take on enormous debt to ensure he has a caretaker? Or, do we find him a nursing home we can afford while keeping our own future stable? It's an honest question, and with healthcare costs we have to look at that. My dad would say he doesn't want us to blow our future on him, but at the same time, can I live with putting my dad in a shitty home? I don't think so.

My husband's Grandma has it made. Her childless son and his wife are very well-off and can take care of all her needs. But my husband and I aren't there yet. My cousin and his wife aren't there yet, and neither are my brother and sister-in-law. Between student loans, expensive housing, iffy job prospects and everything being so bloody expensive, I'd argue having a child doesn't get you much closer to having someone to care for you at all, and if you count on it not only do you come up empty-handed, but it comes along with the hurt and betrayal of feeling "abandoned". My husband and I know we have to deal with that ourselves and will take measures to attempt to ensure we're not blindsided. It's on my mind a lot lately, what we'll do with our parents, with ourselves. How far we can go.

And then I my thoughts go back to Grandma, wanting so badly to see her grandson become a father before she dies. Nothing would make her happier, and yet I can't help her with that.  The thought of breaking her heart breaks mine and sets all these emotions tumbling. I just hope we're not made to be bad guys at dinner this Sunday.