“Do not touch the razor blade,” my mother told me. Of course I did not listen and instantly had a bleeding cut and the excruciating sharp pain she knew would be the case if I did not listen. I was perhaps 4 years old and we were in our bathroom. I have no recollection of why there even was a razor blade but it would have been out for good reason as my family was not careless with such things. Ultimately, that does not matter.
I touched it, I knew within a split second why I had been admonished not to, and off I ran across the hall to the safety of my grandmother for shelter and comfort, calling, “Grandma, Grandma!!!”
That memory is as sharp as the razor blade but far more beautiful and healing.
Grandma was the only grandparent I was fortunate to know and I did not have her for long. She died when I was in First Grade. My father never left work – ever – during the daytime. On the day of my grandmother’s death I knew what had happened even before I was told. From my First Grade classroom window I saw his ’32 Olds go driving by, the only person in town who had one, and he was headed home. In a nanosecond I am back sitting at my desk with Miss Bateman and all my friends…seeing the car go by.
We lived with my grandmother in the home my father grew up in and on land they both loved. She, like my father, was one of few words. However, I loved being in her presence and it was always a place of solace and quiet joy.
What strikes me as I think about her, for she came to mind for some reason tonight, is that in our home there was a cycle of caregiving taking place during those years. As my grandmother aged and needed more care, my parents became her caregivers except for a very short time that she was not able to stay with us at the end.
All the while they were being the caregivers of her, she was being a caregiver of me…the circle of generations receiving, giving, receiving, giving, receiving, giving. I have no doubt that when my mother knew I was in the presence of my grandmother, often saying, “Please, Grandma, will you take your false teeth out one more time?” or whatever our exchanges, she knew she did not have to worry about me.
This is a story played over and over again over generations and yet it is easy to forget when elderly members of the family are being cared for that they have so much to give back, especially in the presence of grandchildren… or… when grandchildren are in their presence, drinking in so much more than we often realize or perhaps honor.
My grandmother’s clothing, her wrinkles, her white hair, her dignified way of being, her smile…all both fascinating and precious to me as such a little girl. How could someone be that old? There was so much to take in with wonder, even though I do not recall hearing many stories from her. It was presence…that’s what it was and at that age I simply wanted to be with her. Her love and care for and of me were all I needed.
Parents as caregivers of their parents.
Grandparents as caregivers of children in their own unique-never-to-be-repeated –ever-again–in-life-magnificent ways.
A circle I will never forget with my one grandparent. Razor blades always make me think of her and of her comfort and safety, though I have no doubt whatsoever that she backed up my mother’s words in her gentle, stern way.
The elderly often have not completed their caregiving role even when their own children are now caring for them. They still have so much to give and the littlest ones are often the recipients and the ones who see and feel the magic.
And still do.