My grandmother, who is in her late 80s, has been on me for weeks about us coming to visit her two states away. Now she’s really laying on the guilt, especially when it comes to seeing our kids, who are both under the age of four. What’s the point in being alive if you don’t get a chance to be around the people you love, she says. We Facetime, but that’s obviously not ideal, especially keeping the attention of both kids. But I just don’t feel comfortable driving that far and using public bathrooms in at least one state that’s seeing a big surge in coronavirus cases. I want my kids to see their great-grandmother, but I don’t want to put her or us at risk and would feel awful if we accidently brought the virus with us. When I told her that the last time we talked, she asked me whether I’d feel more guilty if she died before the pandemic was over and hadn’t come to visit her. Aside from telling her that I’d absolutely feel horrible, I didn’t know how to respond. Am I being too cautious? Any advice on how I can better respond to her?
The Elderly Aunt doesn’t fully agree with many people—either real or imaginary—but she does agree with Atticus Finchwhen he says to daughter Scout, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Since she really is elderly, the Elderly Aunt claims the ability to climb into at least a small section of your Granny’s skin and check things out from her point of view. What she sees is an unfamiliar world shrunken by aging and a dadburn virus.
Think about her world for a moment, dear Grandchild. A lot of your Granny’s friends are dead, her body is betraying her, her mind shorts out in unexpected ways, and—worst of all—there is absolutely nothing she can do about any of it! And now here comes coronavirus keeping her beloved grandchild and doted-upon great-grandchildren from visiting her!
As an aging person, herself, it’s impossible for the Elderly Aunt to blame your Granny for viewing a world-wide pandemic as a personal inconvenience. This COVID-19 nonsense, on top of all the other uncontrollable nonsense going on in her life, is Just Too Much! Your Granny has reached the point at which —like Peter Finch in the movie “Network”—she’s mad as hell and she’s not going to take it anymore!
Being mad is so much easier than accepting her own powerlessness over the drastic changes going on in her body, her mind and her life. Your Granny is entitled to feel exactly as she oh-so obviously does.
What your Granny is not entitled to do, however, is to take her frustration and anger out on you by lobbing passive-aggressive, guilt-tripping nonsense at you over FaceTime. Not, of course, that the Elderly Aunt means to imply for one second that she won’t continue doing it. We elderlies, who have spent our grown-up lives acting like grown-ups, do occasionally feel entitled to our little snits, and guilt-tripping is frequently the snit of choice for anyone who—often for good reasons—feels scared and powerless. It’s an unhealthy coping mechanism, a grown-up’s passive-aggressive version of a two-year-old’s melt-down. The proper adult response is the same for both: Stay calm and rational.
The most important thing for you to remember, dear Grandchild, is that you are in no way the cause of your Granny’s feelings of fear and frustration. Nor can you abate those hateful causes in any meaningful way. What you can do is continue to offer your Granny patience, understanding and love from a safe, FaceTime distance.
For what it’s worth, dear Grandchild, the Elderly Aunt forbids you to waste a single second feeling guilty about not visiting anyone you don’t feel safe visiting until science has beaten COVID-19 into submission.
The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday. And as a general disclaimer—to quote the elves from The Lord of the Rings — “… advice is a dangerous gift, even given from the wise to the wise.”
Got a question for the Elderly Aunt? Ask her on Facebook or email your question to [email protected] with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions).