I posted a status on Facebook last week that I’d like to expand upon a little bit in light of current events. From July 1: Make sure you spend time with your aging relatives. Sure, time is money and it costs, but you’re investing in your future and bettering the lives of those who bettered yours at the same time. Don’t worry if you don’t know what to talk about. Take a book or a laptop or some busy work and just be there. Your presence in their life is what’s important.
My mom’s parents have always been one of the best gifts God has given me. They adopted her out of a bad situation when she was 2, raised her right, and shaped her ideas in their image. My sister and I spent a lot of time with Grandma and Papa when we were little, mostly because they were retired and Grandma didn’t believe in babysitters. From them, we learned how to catch worms in the garden at night after it rains, how to make a grilled cheese sandwich, and how to go to church. My grandparents embodied love – whether it was a kiss for a bruise, a shoulder to cry on, or advice for a tough situation, they were there.
My grandma passed away in 2003 while I was living in New York City. She’d had Alzheimers for three years, and thankfully, she knew us until the end even if she had no idea where she was. Because Grandma and Papa did everything together, I expected him to follow her rather closely, but he’s a stubborn old bird and still kicking, thank goodness. While she was sick, I called every day or every other, just to keep in touch because I couldn’t be there. When she passed, I called Papa at least as often, to make sure he was okay.
When I moved back to western PA in 2012, I had no interest in living with my parents again, but as I was going through a divorce, I didn’t know that I wanted to live alone, either. Papa had a spare bedroom, so I asked him if I could stay there. He was ecstatic because even though he had his massive whale of a labrador retriever, he was lonely. I wasn’t really sure he wanted the intrusion of another person in the life he’d built by himself, but he quickly convinced me that he wanted the company, and that I would be helpful due to the rapid progression of macular degeneration that was stealing his sight.
We built a routine where I helped him with whatever I could, and he tried to help me, too. At first, he would make supper and have it on the table when I got home from work, but as his eyes got worse, I started making meals in gallon ziplock bags so he could just take a bag from the freezer and put it in the crockpot. My cousin used to take him to Walmart to shop for groceries, but once I moved in, he started sending me for things instead of going out himself. The one thing that stayed the same was our evening time, just sitting together in the living room after supper. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we didn’t, but he’d watch the news and Wheel of Fortune and I’d read.
I moved out about a year ago, a couple months before Scott and I got married, and I had a lot of guilt about it. Papa only wanted me to be happy and told me over and over that I had to live my life and not worry about him. My mom and uncle help him get his lunch and supper and he has a cleaning lady who comes three times a week, who has become like family, so he always has people coming in and out. They never stay, though, and that’s what he wants most.
Most of my relatives don’t spend a lot of time with him because they run out of things to talk about. What I don’t think they understand is that it isn’t their conversation he wants, but their presence. I try to get over to his house at least twice a week (it’s about 40 minutes away now) and I always take a book or some work or I play on my phone. Once in awhile he will ask a question or I will, but most of the time we’re just quiet, enjoying being together.
When I went to the hospital to see him this week, he told the nurses I was his favorite, and the best one in the family. I asked him why he said that, and he told me it’s because I spend time with him. That’s going to be so precious to me when he’s gone.
We get so busy with our own lives that we don’t make time for those who gave their time to us when we were young. I saw it all the time when I worked at a nursing home years ago. Those poor people sat all day alone, with no family in sight. Please don’t be one of those people who forgets the old. They need you.