I spent a lot of time with my grandmother as a child. Being with her was always interesting and always an adventure. She loved to walk and we would walk all over town. Poking around in thrift shops and used book stores. She was always looking for a bargain and always watching for sales. If the weather wasn’t great, or she was worried about my little legs, we took the bus. I remember being fascinated by the bus and the different people coming and going. And of course she always let me pull the bell when it was time for our stop. She took me to the local zoo on more occasions than I can count. She would pack snacks and watch me play there until the sun started to go down.
She also liked to take me on day trips. I rode a train for the very first time by her side and fell in love with it. She was an avid people watcher and would make up the funniest, and often somewhat inappropriate, stories about the people we encountered on our journeys. She had absolutely no filter. If it came into her mind it came out of her mouth. I was always amazed and at times mortified by the things that she said. She was dynamic. A force to be reckoned with.
She wrote poetry and baked birthday cakes for her dog. She loved to read and grow the most beautiful flowers. She was like a magician with plants. The second they were in her care they seemed to flourish.
She also loved to knit. Hats and mittens that kept me toasty warm in the winter and little caps and booties which she donated to the hospital for newborns. My oldest daughter has a beautiful knitted sweater, cap and booty set that was made for her before she was born. And socks. She knitted so many pairs of socks.
I have countless fond memories of the time spent with my grandmother.
She is in her eighties now. She can no longer knit. Her arthritic fingers won’t allow it. She can no longer read. Her failing eyes won’t allow it. The day trips are a thing of the past since the friends she travelled with have all passed away. And she is no longer steady on her feet. Her precious walks all over town have ceased to exist.
She wakes up in her apartment in the seniors building where she lives each morning, and passes the time until bedtime rolls around again. Day in and day out. If the weather is decent she goes for a short ride on the bus. Once winter sets in those rides no longer happen. Her friends are gone and her hobbies have been taken from her by the cruel hand of time.
I try to make sure that at least every two weeks I see my grandmother. I go and pick her up and take her shopping or to her appointments. We usually have lunch. Sometimes it’s just her and I and sometimes one of my four children is with us. They hold her hand to help her in and out of the stores. They giggle at her comments when her lack of filter shows through. They listen in fascination when she talks about the way things used to be. Buildings that are long gone or used to be something else. The way children used to have to behave in school, and what life was like as a child on a farm, so many years ago. Their eyes grow wide in disbelief. She’s a walking, talking history book for them.
Sometimes I pick her up and bring her home on a Friday afternoon so that she can see the kids when they come in after school. She sits in a comfy chair in the middle of the chaos while they come and go from her sight. She sits and watches and laughs. It’s a welcome break from the silence that has become her daily life.
I want my children to see her. Not as the grandmother who gets a bit confused sometimes and needs to be taken care of a little more each day, but for who she is. I want them to understand that she had an interesting and full life. I want them to know that she has so much to teach and to offer them, even if she can’t take them around town on the bus. I want them to know the woman who once baked birthday cakes for her dog.
Seniors so often become a chore. They become something that needs to be done, rather than a person who deserves care and love and our time. Time that they so freely gave when they were younger and able bodied. I want my children to think differently.
A couple of weeks ago I was running errands with my grandmother and we stopped to pick up my sixteen year old daughter from her part time job. She sat in the back of the van while grandma and I chatted away. I had no idea she was paying any attention to us at all. After we dropped my grandmother off, my daughter came up to sit with me.
“You know, I totally get it now mom.”
I was taken aback.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I love great-grandma, but I kind of wondered why you work so hard to fit her into our schedule all the time. Especially when you are always so stressed out about how busy we are. But you guys have all these inside jokes, and crazy stories from when you were younger. She is so funny, and you guys are like friends. Really good, old friends.”
My grandmother has told me so many times that what she really misses on those long, lonely days are other people. The sound of a voice on the other end of the phone, asking how she is and actually listening to her answer. The warmth of another hand holding hers, and hugs. I hold her so tight and for such a long time when we say goodbye after our visits because she has told me how much it means.
Such simple things. Surely we all have a bit of time for that? A quick phone call once a week? A hug?
My children will remember their great grandmother, not as a burden, but as a person. Someone with funny stories about a life well lived and a quick smile. A person worth listening to. A person worth their time. A person. I will make sure of it.
IMAGE SOURCES: MANONALLARD VIA GETTY IMAGES | COURTESY OF JESICA BUTLER