autumn days

Friday, April 10, 2015

Grandma Elaine's Love & Lessons

My beloved Grandma Elaine is now 88.  I feel so fortunate to have a relationship with her.  We share a deep love and connection that goes beyond blood.  We see each other clearly and respect our similar yet different paths.  We have been pen pals across multiple states since I was born.

In the last few years, our relationship has deepened.  My grandmother cared for her husband with dementia by herself up until his last few months.  He died three years ago.  With the sadness of his passing came some silver lining.  My grandmother was finally free to travel.  My mother, partner, and children drove from Oregon to Utah to see her for the first time in 15 years.  Since then she has flown to see us several times.  Our relationship grows deeper with each visit.  We cuddle, walk, talk, watch the trees in the wind.  I love how she loves my children.  This spring we plan for another visit.

Two weeks ago I got a call from my grandmother's caregiver, a devoted wife and mother who loves my grandmother as her own.  She detailed my grandmother's mental and physical decline due to Parkinson's and dementia.  Before this phone call, I hadn't believed she had any symptoms of dementia.  Learning of these changes, I went through a variety of emotions, much like the five stages of grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  I continue to process.

As my her story unfolds, I am able to see more facets of her situation and coping techniques.  I am able to add to the love story I share with my grandmother.  I love so many parts of my her.  I love her self-preservation, her can-do attitude, her work ethic, how she laughed and danced with her husband, how she sends cards for so many little holidays, how much she loves my own little family, her devotion to her friends and church and community, her pride in living in her great-grandfather's home, and her willingness to get on a plane to visit us.

Now I am also able to see how some of these characteristics have not worked well for her in her aging process.  In her attempt to get attention and love from friends, she says negative things about the care she receives at home.  This causes friction and hurts her caregivers.  I love her for doing her best, I love her for allowing others to care for her.  I love her for showing me the way to new lessons.

My grandmother is helping me to learn so much about myself and the human condition.  I have learned so much about aging and memory loss.  I am learning what is in and out of my control.  As her granddaughter in another state, I am able to love her and support her without judgement.  I am able to share information with her caregivers to provide a more complete story.  I am able to provide her with another family vacation.

When my grandmother visits this spring, we will make modifications for safety and enjoyment.  It will be her last visit to our home.  I will be the one to visit her next time.  It is sad for me to wonder if this is her last visit with my children.  We do not know what the future holds.  We only know we have today and this great love we so willingly share with one another.  What a blessing to have Grandma Elaine so active in my life.  What a gift to share her with my children.  What a blessing to know her so well and to love her in all her human detail as she loves me in mine.

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