family, life lessons

MOMENTS OF INTIMACY

There is a baby monitor in the living room that lets anyone sitting there hear the sounds of my 101 year old grandfather when he is in his bedroom. His long life has come to this and he is lucky. We are lucky to have a man in our lives who actually did what the commercials keep telling anyone who will listen.

Save for retirement.

Herb Horowitz did so when he and my grandmother retired, they had a nice not so little nest egg to move permanently to sunny Florida andlive the retired life. Cocktail parties, tennis, walks on the beach and lots offamily to visit. A successful well-planned life.

Herbie and Isabelle were good planners, responsible and thoughtful in the way they planned out their golden years. My grandfather readily admits though, that he never planned he would still be living at the ripe age of 101. Or that my grandmother would exit before him instead of the other way around, but as he would say himself, “Be that as it may, there is nothing that can be done about this.”

Herbie has chosen to stay in the comfort of his surroundings, his home, because he has the wherewithal to do this as well as the means. Because of this, he has 24 hour very expensive care to the tune of 3600 a week, yes a week and this is why there is a baby monitor in the living room. So the caregivers can hear his call, his bark at times, his breath to make sure it is still exhaling and inhaling at the rate that an alive versus dead person breathes.

When I am visiting, I am usually in the kitchen cooking and this is when I often hear the intimate dialogue between caregiver and Herb. I often wonder if these strong heady women who get paid to care for other people’s family members while said family members parade in and out of Herb’s home like it is their own personal vacation spot think why the hell are they not taking care of their own? This is my grandparents doing as their mantra has always been to never be a burden to their children and made it their personal mission to make this happen.

We are the luckier ones for it for sure and because of his planning and pragmatism, I get to comfortably sit on the patio by the in ground indoor pool sunning myself on an 80 degree day in Sarasota while my friends and family are lighting fires and bundling up in 22 degree New England.

As I made my way to the beach for the fifth day in a row yesterday, the notion that this life I have been privileged to take part in for the last thirty years will, just by statistics, come to an end. This made my eyes water. Herb is not getting any younger and despite the fact that every time I see him, he seems to be gaining more enthusiasm and zest in his reply when asked “Herb, how are you doing?”  “FANTASTIC.” He says this with a vigor that sometimes people in their sixties are lacking. And he means it. Herb, through all of his losses in his life, lives a happy life, an appreciative one, one of kindness and care and love. I appreciate it more every time I visit realizing how one day I will get the call that it is over. Herb taught me to me a realist and for this in my emotional curvy swings, I have a thread of this, more so now then ever.

I sit here in the luxury, surrounded by a golf course and million dollar homes set up like a monopoly board, palm trees swaying in the warm breeze, tropical sounding birds singing to me and barely a soul outside to enjoy this delight. Where is everyone? I often think this as I make my way in and out of the complex passing the workers making their way in to take care of the chemically greened grass and the too organized and perfect gardens. Are these hard working people scratching their heads like I am? I hardly ever see a soul out and about in this sprawling gated community and as much as I love being here, I am happy to get home to my cold house to actually interact with the many troves of people braving the cold and walking by my house to engage in neighborhood conversation.

“Hello, How are you today? It’s a brisk one,” as they march forth on their Yankee jaunts on a blustery New England day.

My grandfather is appreciative of the visits and we are appreciative of him. I love being in his house because frankly it is the last of the vestiges of my childhood home. This house is the place where when I walk in, I am also home not just because I go in and out with a carefree abandon, but because it is the place I have always felt safe, loved, cared for. My grandparent’s home is that space I am still a grandchild at almost 54. Not just the physical space, but the emotional one that is present as soon as I am greeted. Just like I am five again coming for a sleepover. It is magic.

My grandfather has been the connector of all of us cousins, the patriarch who manages to keep a family who lives as far away as London, to Austin, Texas, and New England to DC to stay in touch despite our young busy lives. I am the oldest of 8 very close cousins, oldest by twelve – fifty two years.  I consider myself more like an aunt to my cousin’s young children. I love knowing them and being a part of their lives. My grandfather taught me this by his example of always showing up. If  he still physically could, he would.

As I listen to him through the baby monitor gently bark and his bark has gotten softer with age, I am struck by how full circle life is. Out of the womb, back to it. The baby monitor is that metaphor that serves as the constant reminder that this life I know shall pass. I know when the inevitable call does come, there will be a finality like no other I have known because even though I am so lucky I still have a grandparent, he is my last one standing. The safety and comfort I have felt knowing his role in my life is an etching in my heart that lies in wait.

I am home today with him instead of the beach because a new caregiver was due in today and he wanted me close by. “No problem,” I said, my skin needs a break from the bright sun. And I am planning a birthday party for him today because even though his birthday is November 17, I have decided that every day he wakes up is a birthday now. So today he is 101 and three months and I can’t think of a better reason to have a party.