Regarding family, not the quake
Last week when I arrived in Florida unexpectedly, I realized that it would be a bonus visit to my grandparents. My grandmother is 89 and lives in an independent living place where she has her own apartment and goes into a lovely dining room for dinner. Last December she told me that she was as happy as she possibly could be without my grandfather. She is feisty and funny and knits up a storm every day (you should see my sweater closet!). We go out for lunch together, laugh and enjoy each other’s company. She has been my very best friend for 39 years.
My grandfather is 93 and lives in an assisted living residence where he has his own apartment, but he needs quite a bit more care than my grandmother does. I realize that it’s unfair to compare them, but when dealing with the elderly and children, it’s hard not to. Frankly the most startling comparison for my grandfather is to his own siblings. Of the six original Ledewitz siblings, five are still living, though they have all lost their spouses. The eldest is 97 and living in an independent residence similar to my grandmother’s. The next oldest is 95 and lives on his own completely – still driving, though I wouldn’t necessarily put my children in his car if I didn’t have to. Then there’s my grandfather, followed by two more beautiful sisters, one 89 and the other 79. The youngest two sisters completely belie their ages, looking, acting, and I hope feeling, each ten years younger. It’s a family with a lot of longevity in it. I’m so proud to be part of that gene pool.
Recently my grandfather had a bit of a setback with a short hospital visit, and now he’s currently in a rehab center, hoping to regain his strength and return home. On the first day I got there for a visit, he was lying on his bed, covered in a sheet, fully dressed, but obviously in some pain from a headache. Additionally, my normally outrageously fastidious grandfather really wanted to change his clothes; felt that he wasn’t clean and neat enough. This was a common refrain from a man who spent his life changing into proper clothes to wear to dinner, be it at the fanciest restaurant in town, or his own dining room. He pressed his sense of orderliness and timeliness on his children and grandchildren, most of who responded in kind.
Though he wasn’t completely aware of everything that was happening, and later in our conversation confused me with his youngest sister, he was very clear about what he wanted in those first minutes. “I need to get new pants on before dinner and I need to get up into my wheelchair. Can you do it for me, Aimee?”
The question was a serious one. He was weak and fairly incapacitated; he’d be unable to help me and he knew it. These were pretty intimate things he was asking of me.
I did not hesitate. “Grandpa,” I told him, “when you have children there is some expectation that they will care for you in your old age. You care for your children when they’re young and they care for you when you’re old. Quid pro quo. But with grandchildren, you care for them and give to them without any expectation in return. You have been a good grandfather and you have taken good care of me all of my life. Helping you now is my privilege. It’s my chance to give back to you and it’s the least I can do.”
It took me an hour, and in the end, a little help from an aide, but we got his clothes changed and got him up in a wheelchair, and when I left, he was ready for dinner.
I am pleased to report that nearly a week later, Grandpa is doing much much better – eating his meals in the dining room, making progress on walking again, and even rode a stationary bike the other day. His ability to hang on to a conversation is much improved as well. He doesn’t, as my Aussie friends might say, lose the plot. My mom says that Grandpa has 9 lives. He has not yet used them up and will recover from this latest episode just fine.
I had dinner with Grandpa’s two youngest sisters last week, too. They happen to be here in Florida either for the winter and/or visiting their brother. They have been to see him pretty much every day. We chatted about me, Japan, my kids, and then a million other family members (in a family with 6 siblings who each had 3 or 4 kids, there are at least 120 of us in the family to discuss!) I’m so impressed with them and the emphasis they put on staying connected as a family no matter what.
I’ve learned a lot in the past ten days – about myself, my response to disaster, my care for my children, and now here is a bonus lesson about my family and the commitment I have to them. It is real and it is strong – no matter where I am in the world.