The other day in between attending the temple and picking up a few things at the grocery store, I dropped by the nicest assisted living home in town to see my grandmother. Grandma Jacobs was, of course, happy to see me. We both enjoy our visits together. If I’m alone we sit opposite of each other so we can see one another’s faces. If one of the kids is with me, sometimes I will squeeze in right next to her and wrap my arm around her in a constant half-hug. Not unlike the many times I would snuggle any one of my babies close to my heart in a desperate effort to breathe in and capture their infant presence forever, I want to hang on tightly to my grandmother. A feisty and funny ninety something, she is ever hopeful that one of these days she will simply move from this life to the next in her sleep.
Because we lived so far away, my childhood memories of this grandmother are few, but wonderful. I remember that in order to promote literacy amongst her grandchildren, Grandma Jacobs used to send us a nickel for every book we read during summer vacations. (As I spent many a night curled up with a flashlight under my blankets long past my established bedtime, I really cleaned up!) When my family of eight did manage to make the long drive down to see them in their San Diego, California home, they took good care of us, often treating us to visits to the beach, Sea World or the San Diego Zoo. To this day I am still amazed that she never complained about the sand we must have tracked in to her meticulously clean house when we returned from our fun-filled days at the beach.
Our visits now are fairly routine. Grandma asks me one by one about everyone in the family and wants to know if I still like my job. She correctly notes by the almost constant yawning that occurs whenever I sit still for any length of time, that I don’t get enough sleep. She catches me up on any news from my extended family. Not unlike in the film Groundhog Day, both the questions and the news bear repeating. Sometimes over and over again.
Often something I say will trigger a memory and I watch as it transports Grandma Jacobs back to the distant past. As I listen intently, I will inevitably kick myself for still not having purchased some kind of voice recorder to capture the memories. Not unlike all the funny things I meant to remember about my kids when they are little, these stories may also vanish if I don’t hurry and write them down.
I have loved watching my grandmother bloom and flourish in this most recent place she has been planted, but it grows old on her now. Her husband and many of her friends have passed on. She wonders if my grandfather, who passed away four years ago, has forgotten to come back to get her as he promised. She recently explained to me that the reason she goes to bed at 8pm isn’t because she is tired, but because she is bored. She can’t see well enough to read or hear well enough for books on tape or TV. And while she makes a wonderful effort to stay active and involved, Grandma can’t help but wonder why she is still here in this place. One can only tolerate so much Solitaire.
During our last visit, she wondered aloud (twice) why she is supposed to keep taking all these expensive (and how!) medicines to keep her alive when what she wants most is to just go home.
I honestly don’t have an answer for my last remaining grandparent. But I am grateful she is still here. I cherish our time together. Grandma Jacobs is good for me. She’s one of the few people in my life who simply accepts me the way I am. Despite my many flaws, she lets me and my quick visits be enough for her. Such a rare gift. I need to understand how she does it, because I want to be like that when I grow up.
Do you still enjoy the influence of a grandparent or two in your life? What do you enjoy most about your relationship(s)? What life lessons can we learn from our grandparents?