Living with my 89-year-old great grandmother Judine Mayfield

Judine Mayfield spends most of her adult life in the Bay Area, caring for and providing a home for many family members, including myself.
Judine Mayfield spends most of her adult life in the Bay Area, caring for and providing a home for many family members, including myself.
Courtesy Judine Mayfield

For five years my weekday morning routine has always been the same. But when I moved in with my great-grandmother, Nana, I had to add a new step.

Typically, I wake up and lounge around before I get up and make my bed. Then I lay my clothes out, brush my teeth and do my hair. I get dressed, eat breakfast and head out for the day. I do all this before 9:30 a.m., and my routine has never failed me.

But since October, I’ve had one new responsibility: Check on Nana to ensure she’s still breathing.

Nana usually gets up between 8:30 and 9 a.m. One morning at 10 a.m., I got scared when she hadn’t come out of her room yet. I slowly walked into her bedroom to make sure she was ok. When I couldn’t see her body moving, I began trying to lightly wake her up, but she wouldn’t budge.

Not wanting to think the worst, I left her alone but checked on her every 15 minutes. At 10:45 a.m. I finally confirmed she was still alive and well. But I was not. I was nervous and shaking all morning, and my own breath was unsteady for the rest of the day. It felt like I was about to lose her, and I wasn’t ready for that. That night, I decided I would check on her every morning to make sure she is breathing — and to calm my fears.

I never told her I had made that decision. She would have laughed and said it wasn’t necessary. And it probably wasn’t. I was probably overthinking it, but I felt compelled to add checking on Nana to my daily routine. 

I never thought I would be examining her daily for signs of life. I never thought I would be living with her again. And I certainly never thought that living with Nana would bring us closer, not as family, but as friends.

Judine Mayfield is many things, but primarily she is independent, through and through. When I first brought up the idea of moving in with her so I could attend Santa Rosa Junior College, she said OK but warned me she was independent and liked it that way. I didn’t understand what she meant.

I had recently graduated from high school, and everything in my life had changed. My mom had moved two hours away, so I couldn’t rely on her. And I was dealing with a lot of stress that I didn’t know how to navigate.

Judine Mayfield’s (middle) independent nature started when she was a child and had to help take care of her siblings, Imojean (left), Jewel (right) and another sister Orelia, not pictured. (Courtesy Judine Mayfield )

Adult grandchild and grandparent relationships are slowly becoming more common, according to The Gerontologist, a journal for The Gerontological Society of America that publishes research and analysis on social issues related to human aging. In its June 2014 article “Solidarity in the Grandparent–Adult Grandchild Relationship and Trajectories of Depressive Symptoms,” Sara M. Moorman and Jeffrey E. Stokes studied grandparents and grandchildren to see if being around each other more often eased depression. They concluded that healthy connections between grandchildren and their grandparents can decrease depressive symptoms in both groups, and strong grandparent-grandchild relationships also could mean the family has strong family ties.

Yet it is uncommon for young adults to live with their grandparents. Most of my friends at SRJC still live with their parents who financially take care of them while they continue their education. Because I grew up in a single-parent household, I always had strong ties with Nana. She often helped babysit me and my siblings and offered financial support. I actually lived with Nana for three years from age 7-10, and she took care of me in all facets of life.

I wasn’t the first grandchild to move back in with Nana, but I am the first who didn’t bring a child of her own. When her other children or grandchildren moved back home, Nana also had to take care of their families. She was fine helping them, but anyone could see the situation added considerable stress.

Nana has always been the self-sufficient one in our family. Born and raised in Texas during The Great Depression, she worked at AT&T for 36 years and at Kaiser Permanente for nine. She had four children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. 

In the months leading up to moving in with her, I worried that our relationship would change. She had been there for me my whole life, caring for me as a parent would, and I thought she was going to hate living with me. I also worried she might try to parent me and set strict boundaries at a time when I wanted to become independent myself, without her treating me like I was still 10. We never really talked about any of this.

I moved in with her the last week of August 2022. I thought living with her was going to be a huge challenge. I was wrong. The boundaries that she set when she took care of me and my siblings as children all but disappeared now that I was 19 years old.  

As children, my siblings and I were never a fan of church and on Easter 2014, we were on our worst behavior with Nana. Since she takes church seriously, she would scold us for stepping out of line. (Courtesy Judine Mayfield )

We both cherished our independence, but one incident in September made me question Nana’s. One morning I asked Nana about her plans for the day, and she let me know she had a doctor’s appointment. She had one appointment later in the week, and when I asked if it was the same appointment, she said no. I was confused, and when I pressed her about it, she admitted that two days earlier she had passed out in the hallway for 15 minutes.

I was immediately upset because, at her age, anything can lead to a downward spiral in health. Why didn’t she call me to let me know what happened or tell me the minute I got home? 

She dismissed my concern by saying she had already made an appointment with her doctor; she wanted to deal with the situation on her own and didn’t want me hovering. This was one of the only times her independence truly bothered me. I was there to help, and she didn’t want it. Over time, I learned to accept it. She had taken care of herself before I moved in, and she wasn’t going to change that now.

On weekdays, I normally don’t see Nana until after my classes, and when I do I make sure to ask about her day. Her life is routine so her days are similar, but I love hearing about them. She tells me extravagant stories about the sales at Safeway, how she had to purchase another brand of bread because the one she enjoys became too popular. And then there’s our neighborhood drama that she always seems to be in the middle of, like when Nana’s yard worker got into an argument with her neighbor over a yard bin. Or when the police showed up and we dramatically peered outside to figure out what was going on. Or when we gossip about the neighbor who calls himself the Berrybrook Court Committee so he feels important. I’m entertained by hearing it all.

Keeping up with Nana has always been easy. Not so with the other elders in my family. I’ve always believed they will always be there and that I’ll talk to them later, but in reality I rarely do. Nana has taught me that line of thinking is unwise. Listening to her multiple stories has shown me that anyone can go at any age. She talks about her sister, Imojean, who died when she was 14 and about her daughter, Judy — my grandmother — who died at the age of 26. Anyone can die at any moment, so I’ve learned it’s important to reach out to those older family members.

Nana attended my high school graduation in 2022. She helped me throughout high school, so there was no doubt that she was going to watch me collect my diploma. I moved in with her soon after. (Courtesy Judine Mayfield )

Showing appreciation to someone like Nana is very challenging. I can’t cook her dinner because I get home late and she eats early. I’ve tried buying her things, but I’m a broke college student trying to save money.

Ultimately, I’ve realized that I don’t need to buy her things or cook for her to make her feel appreciated. I can simply listen and help her out — but only when she asks.

If I notice she looks like she’s heading out, I’ll try to move my car before she asks. I watch television with her and complain about the plot alongside her. I go with her to church on special occasions, which takes a lot of effort because I don’t like church. Me being there is a show of appreciation.

Nana also helped me change how I deal with life stress. I’m calmer now. I don’t always tell her what’s going on with me, but she still helps me cope. She was the soothing presence I needed this year; just watching a show with her or talking about the news together was enough. I would go through my stages of depression, and she would treat me like normal, even make me laugh, not look at me with sympathy. 

I’ve learned plenty of things while living with Nana. I’ve learned how to help her without taking away her independence. I’ve learned she will always be there to help me in any situation, even if it’s simply listening to me rant about my day. I’ve learned to value her for everything she has ever done for me.

Over the past nine months, Judine Mayfield has become one of my best friends, and I know that she will always be there for me. She is my rock and always has been, and that will never change no matter where I live.

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About the Contributor
Jaden Burris
Jaden Burris, Reporter
Jaden Burris (she/her) is in her first semester at SRJC and her first semester writing for The Oak Leaf. She is working toward her associate in English and journalism. She hopes to cover restaurant reviews, mental health and student life. She likes watching movies and TV shows, finding new restaurants and spending time with her 88-year-old Grandma. She plans to transfer to get her bachelor's in English and journalism.

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