Earlier this week I typed specifically about my grandma as an immigrant. Reading her journal (pictured above) has caused me to contemplate her life in another way.
My dad said when he was in typing class for the Army Reserves, since he already knew how to type quite well, he was allowed to type letters to his mom. From what I understand, he wrote to his mom often. Back in the 60s it was once a week. I imagine for most of his life he continued with the same regularity. Often he would come home from work and hole up in his office space to work on ‘papers.’ From what he didn’t say but I now piece together, he was keeping a strong eye on our family finances by balancing the checkbook and also hand writing letters to friends … and his mom. He was compelled to be in touch with her of his own free will. He wasn’t a Momma’s Boy; he effectively cut the cord. But he was friends with his parents. As the youngest child (by far) and as a well-behaved child, they didn’t parent him the same way they had for his siblings. My dad and his parents enjoyed time together at all stages of his life. He wanted to be around them and they enjoyed his company.
My dad made sure he took care of his mom after his dad passed. Grandma was the only of his parents I met, because Grandpa died a full decade before I was born. Not only did my dad miss his father, his heart pulled him in the direction of taking care of his mother. As the only son, as the nearest geographically, as a friend who cared, it was his automatic response to his mom’s widowhood.
Now that I read Grandma’s diary, I see what the little things meant. She probably got down from having her spryness diminish. At the point I pick up her daily logs, she had moved to a retirement facility nearer our home. From what I hear, she had been living on her own, had fallen on the sidewalk twice, and had to wait before help came. This in a pre high-tech age; no emergency services necklaces yet. Therefore, assisted living came into the picture. Walks in the halls, some short jaunts around the outside of the building limited to good weather days, and ‘exersizing’ (see Tuesday’s post) by using the facility’s stationary bike were most of her movements outside her room. She noted every letter received from every child and grandchild … because she felt that getting mail was an event. Which foods were eaten at meals was a specialty (although normal), as was the very rare time she took a shuttle to Kmart. Yikes! “God help me,” was even an attached comment on that outing. Otherwise church, special speakers or concerts in the building, giving a certain amount of money to an organization, or crocheting gifts for family members were documented. These were the highlights.
And then there was me! Twice a month my dad and I drove to visit. It was a fun time for he and I. Although it wasn’t necessarily the highlight of my week, I grinned and beared it. Though I didn’t particularly like Kit Kat bars, I was always polite each time she kindly presented her thoughtful gift to me. We played either Spill & Spell or Chinese checkers as a threesome; sometimes she and I continued head-to-head while Dad worked on her finances, keeping her money in order. When I read about these visits, I notice they made her day. When my mom sometimes drove out on week days to take her to the store (as a personal companion and guide) or visit and play games, it meant the world. Simply put, being old was lonely and boring.
When my dad got sick, my automatic inclination was to come do the journey with him. To be of service, to cheer him up, to be an encouragement, to show how much he mattered– I had already seen these attributes shown by him towards his mother. To do life alongside him in a new way, showing my caring heart as a friend, making lasting (albeit final) memories: everything was put in a new light.
I already called him just to talk and catch up and share funny stories about life. I already hung out with him because he was one of the few people I really connected with and enjoyed being around. It quickly transformed to offering to drive him to his bone marrow biopsy, watching travelogues and movies together, staying at the house with him while Mom drove errands (he didn’t have the strength to get out much, he couldn’t be exposed to too many germs, and someone needed to be with him in the house just in case), etc. Us as my family of four –when healthy– visited and often did our own in-home church services together on Sunday mornings at their house~ basically a full order of service with an online sermon included.
Dad was fully cognizant and humorous and kind to the end. Though it ripped our hearts out to see his skin pale, his teeth darken, and his walking labored, those months maximizing last opportunities are held precious in my heart. In retrospect, those times are not avoided conversation, but meaningful; we still laugh about all the fun times we experienced. Even when my dad stuttered, his jokes were hilarious!
And just like I promised Dad in my last Christmas card to him –the one in which I didn’t give a tangible gift, but rather a promise to take care of my mom and look after her finances (among other aspects)– I follow through. This is an ongoing, long-term, involved, semi parenting-my-parent relationship~ a consistent effort to show love to her, just like my dad did to his mom.
So though this post is supposed to be about my grandma, I learned from reading her diary that I emulate my dad. I honor my friendship to him just as he was friends with his parents. Reading Grandma’s words, I see how much just showing up meant to her. Hearing my dad voice his gratitude —he was so good at saying he was appreciative of all my help— I learned how much it meant to him. So when my mom told me last night, “Sharon, I can’t tell you how much it means to me that…” I got it. It settled within me and I knew she meant it. Whether it’s sitting at the cemetery with her while she sobs, working out her income vs. expenses, taking her on outings we always did forever as a family with Dad and now her counterpart is missing, it’s all intentional. I know exactly what I’m doing; I’ve chosen to make it a priority.