Things to be exceedingly grateful for: I still have a set of grandparents. I’m 30 and my maternal grandparents are still here. Given how many of my friends never got to know any of their grandparents, especially never as adults, I’m grateful I’ve gotten to spend 30 years with my grandparents. I got to know them as a kid; I got to know them as a faux-adult (that nebulous time between 18 and 25); I’ve gotten to know them as a real adult (after 25). More — we all (my two brothers, sisters-in-law, my grandparents, myself) seem to like each other as well as unequivocally loving each other.
That all being said, our family has been rocked since the start of the holiday season. My surviving grandfather has been in the hospital/long-term care facility. Complications due to (what’s turned out to be) pancreatic cancer. Complications due to living in a multi-story home. And having joint issues. And being 90.
Did I mention the cancer and that he’s 90 years old?
When Big and Middle (my brothers) started talking about going to see Grandma and Grandad, I was hesitant. I have so many beautiful and fun memories involving my grandfather. I didn’t want my last memories of him to be of him in a weakened state. That’s what ended up happening with my paternal grandparents. Shortly before my paternal grandfather passed I visited him and my grandmother at their assisted living facility. Their apartment was filled to the brim with many memories and memorabilia they had accumulated over the years.
My mind was full of memories I had of Poppy taking my brothers and I to the brook down the mountain and behind the cabin the family owns in the Adirondacks. More memories of walking out to the end of the meadow to look over the Adirondack vista. Bogarting Poppy’s wool shirts to fly kites or pick blueberries. Gummy making pancakes with said blueberries. Gummy teaching my brothers and I to play cribbage. My memory of being there that day, though, wasn’t playing cribbage with Gummy or meadow walks with Poppy. No, what I remember is Poppy sitting in his ancient recliner calling out ever so feebly to Gummy for a blanket. “Peg, Peg, I’m cold.”
I lived — still live — in fear of having that same experience with Grandma and Grandad. I’ll never not think of the glint in Grandad’s eyes as we built things with blocks in the basement; the beaming grin on his face as he practiced his golf swing on the steps of Boulders; the determined glare as he worked on repairing this, that or the other; assembling puzzle after puzzle on the coffee table; shooting potato guns at the raft from the same steps he practiced his golf swing on. I’m scared to have those memories replaced by, “Lolly, Lolly, I’m cold.”
Knowing this is the natural order of things and that Grandma and Grandad are bound and determined to have their lives end on their terms doesn’t make their respective ends of life suck less yet, oddly, it does.
Middle, his wife and I went to visit Grandma and Grandad over the weekend. Our aunts were also there and the wife of one of our aunts sent some casseroles so that Grandma could have a thing or two less to worry about for a couple days. As I expected it wasn’t easy to see Grandad in such a weakened physical state, but his mind was there (when he wasn’t falling asleep). He listened as Middle talked about his winter hiking adventures, as my sister-in-law talked about work, as we all took turns gushing over how adorable and awesome our niece is.
Throughout our visit my grandfather held my grandmother’s hand. Quite endearing albeit somewhat, “Ohmygerd this is really happening,” as they’ve never been a demonstrative couple. My grandmother summed it up pretty well when she wept talking about my grandfather being her best friend for 70 years and her uncertainty about what she’ll do without him.
The next six months to a year will be a challenge on a lot of different levels. In different ways for my grandmother, my aunts, my mom, Big, Middle, my cousins, the family partners. Me. We’ll all be challenged, But the family will be there to love each other every step of the way.