Usually, my visits home are a gentle reminder to step back and remember the humble roots that ground me. I always leave home remembering that the tech world I live and work in is indeed a bubble, and that there are much more important things that deserve my love and attention than the silly things that are happening at work. Things at home move slower, and it’s the one place I can always go back to knowing it won’t change.
My trip home in September was different. It was marked noticeably by the very thing I thought couldn’t happen to my home — change.
As with most trips home, I came back to spend quality time with my grandparents and help them around the house — washing the dishes, driving them to doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, cleaning the bathroom — all in hopes that they can relax more and worry less. So far, they’re doing okay, but are really starting to slow down because of their age. I noticed changes over the last few times that I’ve visited — but this time, things have really come forward to bear.
There’s the little things, like repeating anecdotes, and having trouble remembering that I live in Boston, not New York. Sometimes, these little quips make me chuckle. But there are also the things, like the decreased mobility, fading motor skills, and general aches and pains, that are harder to come to terms with. Doing things with my grandparents takes a lot more time, care, and attention than they used to.
Having been extremely close with my grandparents my whole life, it’s really hard to see these changes manifest in them. I see their frustration as they try to do things that they used to with ease and discover that they no longer can, and sadness when they have to pass on outings so not to inconvenience others. But, they continue to meet the challenges ahead of them with grace and strength, even in moments of frustration and anger. I’m filled with admiration, but also with empathy for their experience — I ache and I cry with them, but also celebrate in the happiness they feel as we continue to share experiences with them. It brings me such joy to hear the excitement in my grandma’s voice when I call to tell her about a place I’ve traveled to, or see the gratefulness behind my grandpa’s hardened eyes when we take a drive together to see the beach. But, everything is tinted with change, and it’s really hard to watch how their age affects their quality of life.
I’ve thought about all of this endlessly since returning from my trip — how did things change so quickly, and why do things have to be this way? How is it that we’ve traded roles, going from being the child to being the caregiver? I’m filled with so many emotions as I think about my grandparents and their current state — sadness, fear, and regret for not being there more of the time. It’s tough to swallow back the tears every time I sit to write this. I know it’s part of life, but it sure is hard to wrap your head around everything when you see it happening before your eyes.
As humans, we are all socialized to know and recognize this pattern of change. Life is impermanent. It’s constantly changing — sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but in the end, it’s always changing. I’ve always known that this would be part of life — but knowing something doesn’t always mean that you understand it, or have the ability to fully comprehend what it means.
Whether we are conscious of it or not, everyday we choose how to fill the precious time that we have. I’ll admit, I often take my time for granted, choosing to fill my days with things that seem important in the moment but pale in comparison to the grander scheme of things. It’s easy to fall into this trap of thinking you’ll have tomorrow, next month, next year, more time to attend to the things that you believe are fixtures in your life. But all of that time catches up to you, and soon enough, the opportunity you thought you had so much time for vanishes like the blink of an eye.
During this trip home, being with my grandparents and truly seeing them experience the effects of age has revealed what the impermanence of life really means. It feels as if I’m holding a fragile blossom in the wind, and though I’m protecting it with all my might, it just takes one gust to blow this beautiful flower away. I regret the time that I’ve lost to things that seemed more important — all of the long days that went between calls, all of the times I’ve felt frustrated by their lack of understanding. I hope that in truly recognizing the frailty of life that too much time has not been lost on the things that don’t matter.