I’ve had the pleasure of having five of my grandchildren visit for two weeks. Since all of my grandchildren live eleven hours away, I rarely have little children in my house, so when they come it’s an adventure. And when they go home, the instant void is almost overwhelming. Suddenly quiet, suddenly empty.
This year, our visit was a little unusual. Right in the middle of their time here, I had to travel to Florida to help my elderly grandfather adjust to the loss of his companion of twenty plus years. While I was gone my son took his family to Minnesota to visit his wife’s relatives. When we all returned about five days later, we picked up where we left off and continued our activities for a few more days. Now they have left for home and I am left to ponder what exactly happened to me in these two short weeks.
What I experienced was an incredible spectrum of events and emotions. I was at my home with my grandchildren, enjoying the innocence of childhood. We played games, read stories, played at the park, visited the zoo and went for walks. Meals were chaotic but fun to share with so many at the table.
The next thing I knew, I was flying to meet up with my brother and his wife and then driving with them to Florida. We spent the night somewhere in Georgia. We talked for hours about our children and grandchildren, we laughed about the childhood memories we shared, stopped for quick, simple meals and were on the road again. I loved having this rare time with my brother when we could share our lives, both past and present.
After traveling the better part of two days, we arrived at the assisted living facility where our ninety-six year old grandfather lives. We spent the next few days listening to the same stories of his youth, eating rather bland institutional meals, and playing games of Triominoes where we sometimes had to wait for him to wake up after he dozed off in between turns. We visited the doctor’s office, the bank and took him to his favorite restaurants for meals a few times. I spent one entire afternoon with him by myself. The feeling of being his granddaughter and nothing else was such a special time. We talked of the days that only he and I remember and many days that are in his memories alone, since he has outlived nearly all of the people who shared those experiences.
In many ways, he is as childlike as my grandchildren and yet, there is a depth of wisdom that rises to the surface in his more lucid moments. He has seen so much in a life that nearly spans a century. It might be tempting to brush him aside, as it is challenging to listen to him ramble and hard to watch him struggle with everyday tasks. Let someone else care for him. I have more important things to do, caring for my own children and enjoying my own grandchildren. But I could never turn my back on him. He and I were about the same age when we became grandparents. When I think that he saw me the way I see my grandchildren now, it’s hard to imagine that so many years have passed. Wasn’t that just a little while ago, when I was sleeping over at his house on a Friday night?
When my grandchildren left this morning I felt such a sudden void. Did my grandfather feel the same when we left him a few days ago? Suddenly quiet, suddenly empty. And isn’t it strange that I can share this experience with him? To be both a grandmother and a granddaughter at the same time is something I never expected.
It’s all made me consider what lies ahead. One day, will my grandchildren be visiting me like I visit my grandfather? Will they struggle to be patient with my slowness and my confusion? I hope I can model for them what it means to love unconditionally. Not for my sake, but for theirs. To be able to give them the gift of loving family no matter what, is something that means so much to me. Family is worth the investment of time and the sacrifice of personal agenda. I can see it from both sides of the spectrum and is a beautiful sight to behold.
Do you have a grandparent, parent, sibling or grandchild that you haven’t seen in a while? Spend time with them and love on them. You’ll be so glad you did.