Today I got to sit with my Gram and start to record some of the tales from when she was young. She gets worn out pretty easily these days, so she was done with the exercise well before I was. I wish I’d started trying to get these stories down a few years earlier, we just hit the tip of the iceberg today. But I was able to find out I got a few of the details wrong on her and my grandfather’s love story. They got engaged before they found out about the draft; they were told he was to be drafted when they went to talk to my Gram’s minister (who was on the draft board, not the head of it) about getting married. My Grampy first spied Gram from the porch of the store his friend’s parent’s owned, not their house. And the church was not her regular one. Gram was going to the Welsh Baptist Church, not Westminster Presbyterian for a time because it was closer to her home and her younger brother was very ill so it was easier for their mother to send them close by. But the heart of the story and most of the details were correct. And I think that is what matters.
Last night the whole family was together for a bit of a reunion and my Gram was on Cloud 9. I wish my Grampy could have seen everyone together. He loved kids and would have adored knowing all 12 of his great grandkids. And it was a hell of a good time to see my cousins. I’m grateful to be in touch with my extended family.
Earlier this week mom and I picked up Gram from her place in the assisted living facility. She was telling everyone about her big trip to the beach to see all her family. Traveling is hard for her, even just 20 minutes away. She doesn’t like to spend the night away from her home and we were surprised and thrilled she had agreed to come stay with us. So Mom and I felt relieved she was clearly so excited. On the way out we ran into a fellow resident and my mom asked how he was. He said he wasn’t doing well because his wife was not recovering properly from a surgery. I had a hard time not crying. My mom knew him and his wife because she visits gram frequently. Later she said that he and his wife were inseparable and he was really looking bad compared to the last time she saw him.
Before I had T it felt like Z and I had forever before we started to get old. And of course, we are still young although I regularly remind Z he is pushing 40. But since T has been born life has been moving in fast forward. There were 23 years between the oldest and youngest great grandchild last night but when I considered the age difference between T and the next oldest, and the next oldest after that, and the next oldest after that it just didn’t seem that significant. I know he’ll be 24 before I take a breath. When I talked to my cousin’s daughter who is a sophomore in college it feels like I was her age just a minute ago, not 13 years. So while old age isn’t just around the corner, it is clearly lurking in the distance.
Last night was fantastic, but when I consider Gram I can’t help but feel some melancholy. Her husband died 17 years ago, and caring for him really kept her young. She is lonely and frustrated with her failing body. When we visited in June she got down on the floor with Thomas and she couldn’t get back up without help. No big deal, but she was so frustrated. She told me she used to be so disgusted with her mother when her mom was older and struggled to get around, but now she is in the same boat. She was settled in a big leather chair at my sister-in-law’s house at a different point in the trip. I helped her to her feet, which turned into an embrace and she murmured to me, “This is terrible.” I told her “No, no it isn’t.” But she repeated herself and I repeated myself and told her I loved her. And I tried really hard to not cry. I understood in that moment of vulnerability and honesty that she was saying the aging was awful and I desperately want to make it not terrible for her.
I tried to write about my feelings concerning her during that trip in June, but I didn’t get very far, it was just too hard. Z and I talked about how hard it is for me to come to terms with how old Gram is getting. During that trip we asked her how things were going in her community she sort of shrugged. When we pressed her she said “People keep dying.” We expressed our condolences to her, but didn’t know what else to say. Later Z said we didn’t know what to say because of the way death and aging are dealt with in our culture. I asked if he meant that as a culture we act like death will never happen and fight aging with all our power. He said, “Yup.” I also think we don’t have enough time for the aging. I know when my Gram dies I will regret not calling her more, not seeing her more, or listening to what she had to say.
This trip she said the crew at the Assisted Living Facility say to each other over breakfast, “Well I made it through another night.” My heart aches for her, for the man I saw whose wife is not getting better, for my parents as they get older, for Z and me if we get to be that age, and for us if we have to be that age alone. God it’s old fashioned, but us young folks who are in the middle of raising families and living life need to do a better job remembering and respecting our elders. Every time I am down here I vow to be a better granddaughter to her. I hope this time I’ll follow through.
T and his Great Grandma.
The great grands and Gram.