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(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

My dad’s parents lived well up until their last few years and they lived long—both until 92. I didn’t know how lucky I was to have grandparents who were active and independent—even into my late 20s—before old age finally caught up with them. Before that they made annual car trips halfway across the country to visit their relatives while also being able to drive themselves to watch our sporting events or to come stay with us. Granddad didn’t retire for the final (his third) time until he was in his mid-80s.

Although their own family was small—just my dad and our family—they had a large circle of extended family members and old friends who they always made sure to see. Their best times in old age were spent visiting with these people—something I thought was B-O-R-I-N-G. What I didn’t see then was how they got together with those in their circle, even during hard times. They loved to see new babies or talk about good times, but where they shone was visiting people in hospitals and nursing homes and attending funerals.

I have never been one of those people who walks into a nursing home at ease—though it breaks my heart that so many people are living in bodies and minds that are failing them, I am also afraid of approaching and interacting with them—as if somehow it’s all about me and my discomfort and not theirs. This despite the fact my grandparents brought me to visit in a nursing home often in my younger years because one of their (our) relatives lived there much of her long life after an early head injury. Thanks to them I at least understood that old age didn’t always look like the independence Granddad and Grandma maintained—and I witnessed what faithful commitment to loved ones through hard times looked like.

When my grandmother finally ended up in such a place in the final two years of her life, it was hard for me to see her that way in that space. I didn’t have to face my discomfort too often because I lived far away busy raising toddler twins, but in those years while my grandma declined, my father kept up the good visiting example set before him by his parents.

Later as my own mom descended deep into Alzheimer’s, I moved her into memory care. I had to learn to override my discomfort in order to visit her most days, but I did. And when you visit someone in memory care, you visit many other people beside your own loved one. I wouldn’t say I grew relaxed, but I could reach out to the other (mostly) women who I met there—people who I could see as individuals hanging onto who they were by a slim thread and people who needed to know they were not alone in whatever scary lack of understanding their own minds exhibited. Like my grandparents and father before me, I held hands and talked.

Now, four years since my mom has been gone, we are back to visiting my husband’s mother. A fracture of the femur and subsequent hip surgery sent her to a physical rehabilitation center, but it is an inability of her mind to absorb all the instructions that has finally sent her into a skilled nursing center—aka nursing home—to see if she can recover enough to walk back into her home. Once again we are confronting the frightening realities of people whose bodies and/or minds do not work as they should—including hers. But, still, we hold hands and talk.

My grandparents taught me how to do this—I don’t know if they were ever afraid or sad or tired of going when they went to see people, but they just went and visited. That’s what they did. I had no idea how brave they were to do so year after year for so many people and to keep visiting until they visited one last time for the final goodbye.

Visiting someone in a care facility is hard for me but I have to remind myself how much harder it has to be to be a person at the mercy of failing bodily systems away from my home and those whom I love. God bless the workers who care for our loved ones in our absence, but may we never forget how much power there is in spending our own time with those loved ones who long for who and how they once were and how we can give them a connection to the lives they have led outside their confinement.

I used to think my grandparents’ use of the word visiting spelled B-O-R-I-N-G, but now I know it spelled L-O-V-E. Now, that was living well.

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(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

Too bad the letter for today isn’t “E” since we have a tradition of dyeing eggs the day before Easter—which this is. However, I like that the daily letters challenge me to work around my original thought.

The truth is this tradition has become more about spending time with the kids’ grandmother. Sherman’s mom is Grandma Pat to them—I’m glad that last year Christiana could continue the tradition and that this year Jackson can do so.

When we’re young, if we’re lucky enough to have active, healthy grandparents, we take for granted they will be able to remain active participants in our lives and in the family traditions. At least, I did. Only one of my grandparents had slipped into dementia and poor health before I graduated from high school. The other three continued on much as I had known them for many more years and by the time another grandparent disappeared into dementia, she was just short of her 90th birthday.

I want this to be a glad post, but realize it’s really more gloomy than glad. The thing is you never know how quickly an aging person’s health will change, either physically and/or mentally. You have to hold onto your shared traditions as long as you can because when both the people you have loved and the traditions are gone, you will miss them for the rest of your days.

My kids can barely remember my father, who became ill in 2001 and died in 2002, while they remain heartbroken over how they lost who my mother had been to them over a period of three years. By the time she died last year, she was nothing like the talkative, energetic grandma who had put them at the center of her life.

(c) 1997: Alex, Grandma Pat, Jackson, & Christiana

No, when it comes to people whom we love, we really do have to live by a carpe diem attitude. Dye those Easter eggs with them, make the holiday cookies, and sit with them at the table of your family celebrations. And, if those options don’t work anymore, just hold their hands and be in the moment with them.

Grandparents are gifts to us too soon gone. Giving thanks today for my grandparents Esther and Charles Ritter and Elva and Pat Lange, as well as for my parents Dick and Mae Lange.

Am also reminded that dying eggs means more than a treasured tradition—it is a symbol of new life in the glorious resurrection. Now that is a gift beyond all others . . .

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