Every weekend (and many days between) since Grampie and Thyrza moved here, we've spent in their small, warm apartment, going through boxe, trying to reduce the piles of papers and belongings to a manageable amount. Yesterday I took over some carrot soup that Thyrza had been requesting, soup I haven't made in a long time. As Beve said, "I like it because it doesn't taste like carrots." I guess that's high praise, certainly worked for our kids when they were little and finicky. So we ate soup and grilled cheese (with Cougar Gold, no less) sandwiches, and tried, once again, to help them get rid of things they have no space for, things they will probably never use again.
Here's the thing: Grampie would get rid of everything. Well, almost everything, that is. Not his computer, and not the twenty-seven reams of printer paper he bought on sale at Staples. But pictures, old memorabilia? Toss them. Seriously, he tried to get the movers to dump an old suitcase full of photographs. Fortunately the mover didn't--wouldn't. He gave them to us, and there are treasures there. Photographs of Grampie's great-grandfather Justus, his wife Susan. Even Susan's father, Byron Henry. I'm talking about pictures taken in the mid-nineteenth century. I love those old photographs, really love them. I'm going to get some of them framed and hang them in our entry way with all the other old family photos.
Thyrza, on the other hand, is far more connected to her things. She's done a masterful job of culling her clothing--sending off boxes to her daughter and granddaughter. But she has a difficult time with this job, all the same. Doesn't want us doing it, either. All the holiday decorations, the Christmas wreaths, the autumn flowers? She wants them near at hand. Even when there's absolutely no space for them. Both of them think that with just another shelf, everything will magically fit.
It's a stressful situation, one in which it's easy to feel frustrated by their slowness of decisions, and their inability to actually take action. To compound it, Beve and I take opposites tacks with the elders. His desire to help means that he takes charge and starts tossing things that Thyrza is deeply attached to. I tend to ask her about everything. And, as you might guess, because neither of us wish to get mad at them, we take our frustration out on each other. Yesterday, Beve was trying to convince Thyrza of a certain course of action, as she stubbornly resisted. And I thought that perhaps he didn't understand that from her point of view--her age informing that view--his way was intolerable. So I tried to explain it. And he got mad. And believe me when I tell you that Beve doesn't get mad at me very often. He was basically telling me to stay out of it.
Later, at home, we had a calmer conversation about it. At one point I said, "Are you saying that if you're having a conversation with someone, I'm not allowed to speak? Because that isn't the way we've operated, and if you're changing the rules, I need to know." He looked at me for a long time, until I said, "Beve, you're just staring at me. Say something." "I'm thinking about it," he said. Then we both laughed. Of course that isn't what he wants. But we're both exhausted by all this, don't see an end to it, and don't know well enough how to navigate this new landscape where we have to parent these parents (one of whom is so clearly not ours, though we love her).
But what I know is that the last thing Grampie and Thyrza would want is for all their stuff to be a wedge between Beve and me. But I also know that to get wrapped up in their stuff at the neglect of our own relationship is on us. It's a little bit like dealing with small children again, though they want their own autonomy. Little children with minds of their own. And we managed those days well--most of the time, anyway. Took steps to concentrate on us. Were intentional. It will take some shifting to understand that these parents who have taken care of us and our kids (Funny story, Grampie told Beve the other day that if we needed to go out by ourselves, they'd 'sit our kids' for us. E and J were thrilled).
Yes, it's new territory. And territory we'll be going down ourselves before long. So I pray that we all navigate it with dignity now. And dignity in the future when our kids are making decisions for us.