Updated: Dec 13, 2019
By Ashlie Castaldo
Sometimes I see whisps. Flecks. Shadows of what once was. Yet, just as quickly, it passes. This new stranger in my life is my grandpa. He helped raise me and has had a profound influence in my formation. Now that very same man sleeps through existence and the remaining tether connecting us is a memory of me sitting on his lap, hearing his reading. I am a part of a familial team of caregivers, and through this journey I have gained a profoundly unique perspective on the elderly care industry and process of death.
One of the things I was not prepared for was the sense of relief, almost anticipation for his passing. Or the unnecessary guilt: I do not want him to go, but I knew that as a man of faith, this pain was his hell until he could receive his eternal reward. I loved him enough to not want him to suffer unnecessarily and his life at this point is a pattern of sleep, eat, sleep, eat, etc. He is existing, not living. However, those whisps settle in during those meals. He will converse and tiny miracles over coffee take place: a memory from his past will rise to the surface. In a bittersweet way they bring along guilt that maybe my inner goodbyes are too early.
The modern millennial age is a paradox where we destroy any vestiges of the old world, and have no connection to by gone ways, and yet we crave nostalgia. There is also within my generation and younger a perceived distrust of our elders. So the separation between the elderly and youth grows deeper, at least in a companionship context outside of a care center. I have not just learned how to assist with life skills, but also come face to face with being relied on in a culture where I should be experiencing the most freedom I will ever have. It has cultivated patience, understanding and knowledge that we are all the more vulnerable than we let on.
Another uncomfortable truth is the fact that elderly care staff are rarely paid the compensation they deserve. Those we most love and will miss will require a level of care that is impossible to carry alone, and those that join us in this burden are not matched in compensation for their labor. There needs to be a push not only for better care, but higher wages and structural changes within the care industry if we are to improve the quality of life for all. There have been too many stories of bed sores, abuse and negligence of needs. Love for our elders can not give way to complacency and forgetting their existence.
I have just left my grandpa,and a joy radiates from my chest. He was offered the chance to engage what he most cares about: Communion. All he cares about is his faith, and it had to be put on hold as memory loss jumbled mass times and took away his ability to drive. Participating in the faith gave him a sense of purpose, an event to look forward to and brought back his identity even for a brief moment. The elation in his eyes was adorably life giving. Today was a miracle. Hopefully, tomorrow brings one as well.