Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Multigenerational Living

We recently made a sizeable decision in our family. We opted out of the desert and chose to return to our roots. Some people might look at this as insane, but I look at it as a wise decision. Corey and I acknowledged the challenge of raising our children virtually alone, out of arm's reach from family. There were admittedly adjustments that could have been made to get more help so far from "home", but in the end, the people who love us most were just too far away.

Three and a half years ago, Corey's mother passed away. She suffered for several years with a steady decline in her health and mobility. She had what is called PSP, but suffice it to say it looked for all intents and purposes like ALS. Her body slowly shut down. As a result, her husband, my father-in-law had to be her primary caregiver, as well as take care of the house, his job and himself. It was quite a burden to carry, and he did it with true blue loyalty until the day she took her last breath.

Her passing began my own journey of questioning whether or not living so far away from family was worth it. Because we were so far out, taking my newborn daughter back to see her grandmother before her passing never happened. We just couldn't swing it with time or money. It was too much. Sadly, my daughter did not get to "visit back home" until my mother-in-law's memorial service...too late. It broke my heart, but that's how that chapter of life was written.

Three years later, last fall, my father had to undergo surgery. Instead of coming out to visit us in Arizona, like usual, he and mom had to stay home in preparation for his hospital stay, surgery and recovery. They didn't know that it was going to interfere with their planned visit, but it did. So instead of seeing my parents, they were "back home" dealing with dad's need for medical attention. Again, my heart was broken. How many more family visits were going to be lost to health, illness, death, lack of time or money?

A month after my father's surgery, the mother of a very dear friend of ours passed away. She meant everything to me as a grown woman, and even more to my husband, who knew her since childhood. Once again, time and money meant that only my husband could go back for the funeral. I was left with both children to grieve on my own in Arizona. I don't fault him for going. He knew the family much, much longer than I did, but it didn't diminish how much I respected and mourned this woman. It was the nail in the coffin for me...I had to move back home. My heart seemed to be breaking on a daily basis over the lack of community, support, and love. I felt depleted and alone. I felt like I could not possibly pull myself out of the hole I had dug myself into by allowing my family to be in Arizona for so long. The time had come to move back.

Over Christmas break, my husband felt the toll too. He had somewhat of a nervous breakdown. The stress of work, spending money on plane tickets for us all to go back, the grief of losing his best friend's mom, as well as the loss of another close and dear friend that year all came crashing down on him. The holidays just make all of that stress worse, and he really did loose his marbles on Christmas Day.

Fortunately, on Christmas Day, we were flying out to see my sister and her new baby (and husband). We were scheduled to celebrate Christmas at her house with my dad's side of the family. My sister had just had her kitchen and bathroom redone, and the house looked amazing! Even my grandmother was able to come, despite her own health issues. All three of my dad's brothers were there, and so were both of my parents. It really did my heart good to see everyone there after so much heartache.

While we were visiting back home, we also stayed with my father-in-law. He still lives in the house where my husband grew up, and where his wife passed away. There are so many memories in the walls. There is also so much "stuff" that has built up over the years too. From the days when his wife was alive, there seemed to be enough "things" to furnish several houses packed into those walls. As her caregiver, he was unable to attend to much of what needed doing in the house, nevermind taking care of all the "stuff" from when they had renters in the house. He has made many improvements over the past three years, but there is still much work that needed to be done. Most of it is sorting though his departed wife's belongings. When we talked with him over the break, he seemed like he genuinely needed and wanted help with sorting through and getting rid of all that was left after her passing. I heard my calling...

We also shared with him our need to have more help with the kids, more community, and to be closer to family. It was decided that we were welcome to move back and live with "grandpa" if we felt that this would help us solve these problems we were living with on a daily basis. And he genuinely was ready to accept help with what needed to be done around the house. It was a big step for all of us...

With an invitation to return home and live with Grandpa, we began the discussion of moving back to our roots. The planning begun as soon as we returned home from Christmas break. It wasn't a perfect move, but we made it happen. My husband still looks back and wonders if we could have somehow made it work out there in the desert. But the truth is, for me at least, family needs family. My kids need their grandparents, their Aunts, Uncles and Cousins. They need to see the people who love them more often than twice a year. They need people to look up to who aren't just mom and dad. They need people to correct them and show them manners (*ahem*).

They get all of that with each visit we now get to take to see the family we so dearly missed. My children get that on a daily basis, living with Grandpa. It's not just a fight about whether or not it's okay to put their feet on the table (Yes, that's an actual thing my kids used to do, despite our consequences and threats.) It's now a rule that grandpa enforces and they respect. It feels good to have someone backing us up. I no longer feel like we are trying to do it all alone.

They are learning responsibility by helping take care of grandpa's dog, yard and house. They are learning that helping out is something families do, not just something to argue about with mom and dad. And it's a two way street too. Grandpa enjoys us helping with the decluttering process. It's a very arduous task and he is grateful for the help. He also enjoys getting to spend time with his grandkids in the otherwise empty house.

My parents are happy that they get to see their grandkids too. Now they don't have to choose between taking care of their health and seeing their offspring. My niece gets to have her (only) cousins be a part of her growing up experience now. My kids get to enjoy seeing their little cousin grow up too. We were fortunate enough that our plans to move back coincided with my niece's first birthday and we were able to celebrate with her!

Taking the dog for an afternoon walk with Grandpa...Lily needed a piggy-back ride.
These are the moments that we can never get back. Now that we are sharing space with grandpa, we have a whole new life opened up for us. A life that includes our family AND us. We don't have to wave from a distance, wishing we could be a part of our families' lives anymore. We're here. We're back. And, yes, we are sharing space with grandpa, saving a few pennies for when we can land in our own space. But for now, we are all enjoying the benefits of multigerational living. Grandpa babysits for us so that we can get out once in a while. We help with cooking and dishes. Everybody wins. It's a little unorthodox, but it works. Thanks, for sharing your space, grandpa. It truly is a blessing.

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