quality time

I Moved In With My 96-Year-Old Grandmother After My Divorce

The experience shaped the rest of my life.

Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Shutterstock
The Sandwich Generation Issue

Divorce sucks, plain and simple. During mine, it quickly became clear that I didn’t have the energy for a drawn-out dissolution, so I decided to take my clothes and the items I brought with me into the marriage and just get out.

Needless to say, I was traveling light. I was 36 years old, pre-kid, and working remotely, so I decided it was a good time to travel and visit friends. I was trying to decide between moving back to Los Angeles, where I lived before my marriage, or staying in northern California near my family. And then my grandma ended up in the hospital with pneumonia.

At 96, she was entirely independent, aside from driving, and lived alone. But after this hospitalization she finally conceded that it might not be a bad idea to have some extra help. During a family meeting where we all discussed the pros and cons of her moving or having in-home care, the solution seemed obvious to me: “Why don’t I just move in with Grandma?”

I’d always been close with her. She gave me multiple perms when I was in elementary school and wanted curly hair, she let us eat dinner off TV trays while we watched Wheel of Fortune, and when my first grade class was assigned to bring our favorite thing to show and tell, my classmates brought stuffed animals and toys while I marched my grandmother into class.

And boy, was she a force. Her father died when she was 4; her mother passed away a few years later. She was raised as the baby of the family by her grandparents. She was devoutly Catholic but would laugh endlessly when one of her grandkids would say something raunchy in an attempt to try and shock her (we never succeeded). She was kind and deeply benevolent, and I’m positive she never said a swear word once in her life. She became a widow in her 50s, lost two of her children in her 80s, and remained the most optimistic person for all 100 years of her life.

Her house had always been a second home, so it never felt like I was moving in — more like I came over to spend the night, as I had so many times before, and never left.

Our routine wasn’t much different from other roommates. She’d make the coffee in the morning, I’d drive us to the grocery store every Tuesday and we never missed an episode of her favorite show, The Big Bang Theory.

Her health and well-being were my responsibility, and caregiver burnout is a real thing — something I found myself facing on more than one occasion. Because while she was incredibly healthy, she was still 96 years old, which meant frequent doctor visits, trips to the ER, 911 calls, and hospital stays. I often felt exhausted, helpless, and constantly worried.

But it always seemed like any time those feelings began to teeter on the verge of becoming insurmountable, my grandma would do something so endearing yet absolutely natural to her character that I would instantly be reminded that I was where I was meant to be.

Like the time she had me ask the 911 operator if the ambulance could arrive with the sirens off so that “it won’t wake the neighbors.” Or the time we were heading to the car after a hospital stay and she asked me to hand her a lipstick “just in case” because, as she said, “no one wants to look dead on their way out of a hospital.” And I’ll never forget walking into the kitchen and seeing her standing over the stove making me a grilled cheese sandwich, even though we both were feeling sick. “I still want to take care of you when I can,” she said.

I asked her anything and everything I could think of. Her favorite cleaning hacks, regrets, her greatest memories, recipes… you name it, we covered it. One thing that always amazed me about my grandma is that while I had seen her mad, I never once heard her yell.

“I don’t think there is any reason to yell. If you are yelling at someone for something they did, it’s already happened. Yelling won’t change that,” she explained. “That’s why I’ve never yelled at any of my kids or grandkids.”

According to her, the best punishment was to take away something beloved. “It was anything from records or the car for your mom and your aunt and the TV for your uncle. And when you kids were little, it was your video games!”

I especially loved that idea and follow the advice to this day with my own son. And let me tell you, it works wonders!

There were some complications when it came to my dating life, specifically some men who simply couldn’t understand why I would choose to live with my grandmother. Sometimes it was hard, but ultimately I knew that anyone who would question it wasn’t the right person for me. As my friend once put it, “It may not always be easy, but you’ll never look back and regret spending this time with your grandma.”

And she was so right.

Eventually, I met a man who didn’t think my living situation was weird. In fact, he told me, it was one of the reasons he fell in love with me.

Around the same time, one of my younger cousins asked to move in with our grandma while he was in college, and it was time for me to step into the next chapter of my life. It was bittersweet. I would miss her terribly, but I also knew the time we shared together shifted my perspective on life and healed me. I carried her kindness and grace with me and I know I’m a better mother today because of it.

After I moved out, my now-husband and I were married and spent as much time with her as we could. We celebrated her 100th birthday, and a few months later, I was able to tell her that I was pregnant. Three months later I held her hand to my belly in her final hours.

When we buried her, I put lipstick in her pocket “just in case.”

Becky Vieira has been wearing mom jeans since 2016. She writes for a variety of parenting outlets, and can often be found oversharing intimate details of her life on Instagram. She's immensely proud of the time she thought to pee in one of her son's diapers while stuck in her car, as opposed to her pants.

Vieira’s debut book, Enough About the Baby: A Brutally Honest Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood, is a guide book for women who recognize the necessity of self-care — even if sometimes the rest of the world does not. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, son, dog, three cats, and a partridge in a pear tree.