… on raising grampa

Dinner with Grampa back in the day

First Dinner

That’s First Dinner, with Mac, Sam, and Grampa circa 1998.

For a long time, we couldn’t figure out why Mac and Sam never really ate their dinner.

Then we found out about First Dinner.

At 5:00, Mac and Sam would walk over to the apartment.

Shockingly this was just as Granny and Grampa were sitting down to… yep… dinner.

And, so they would hang out and eat dinner and chat, and then come back to our part of the house.

Just in time for… dinner.

I still smile at the idea of First and Second Dinner, and I hope they do too (and will, forever).

The picture above reminds me of how incredibly grateful I am that my kids grew up in a house where three generations lived and grew together.

I’ve gotten the raised eyebrows from countless numbers of folks,  and experienced that deep down feeling (and knowledge) that some people just don’t believe us – actually think we are lying – when we tell them this works for us.

I know exactly how rare this is.

And that I am,

we are,

so lucky.

For sure, we had great days, and not so great days. There were arguments and fights -mostly about the Old Yankee Man wanting more control over something (usually a portion of the yard or garage), but we worked things out.  And there were wonderful moments, like First Dinner.  There is so much good stuff that it overshadows the tough stuff with ease.

I think it worked, in part, because it never occurred to us – not once, not ever – that there was an ‘out’ during any particularly tough time.

We are a family.

We’d figure it out.

And we did.

This was so different from my childhood, where the outs were many (sure, there was divorce, but also just checking out in general, giving up on caring.  Going cold.)

I see our years living with Granny and Grampa as an incredible gift of how things can be, and have been.

Did I say ‘lucky’ too many times already?


I am.

We always knew, from our first very open conversations talking about the possibility of moving in together in 1992, that we – all four of us – were committing to be there for each other, through sickness and in health just like a marriage…

Until death do us part.

We have marveled, over the years,  that we are all relatively healthy – especially with both Granny and Grampa being in their eighties (Grampa is 86, Granny about to turn 83).

But as we age, sometimes big health events trigger slides that we just don’t bounce back from as quickly, or as completely, as we do in our younger years.

When Grampa was in a car accident a little over 18 months ago, and broke his neck, he experienced – and hence we all experienced – a ‘big slip’.

Sure, we were already talking about whether he should renew his license or not (the accident actually wasn’t due to his safe driver-ability). And, sure, the aches and pains and memory lapses were increasing before the accident…

But with all such things, it felt jarring. Everything from anesthesia to trauma effects an elderly mind and body so much more, and often very differently, than they do younger brains and frames.

Grampa did terribly in the hospital back then.

He was not in control.

He got confused.

He sometimes made no sense.

And when he got home, he was angry.

He had a walker (which he resented enormously), he needed a lot of help from us, and to top it off, strangers were coming into his house on a schedule he couldn’t completely control.

We talked a lot, he and I.

Sometimes his anger turned to tears.

And then we would talk more.

And a year and a half went by and, as the new normal has settled in, his anger declined.

But so did his mental processing.

And his ability to follow a conversation, or stay on topic.

Or handle crowded family functions, or loud places.

And when he had his episode a few weeks ago, and his pacemaker was inserted, we all joked about his bionification – Grampa included.  And we soothed and breathed a sigh of relief.

But I knew, via that inexplicable inner warning system, that we were in for a second slide.

We have the support we need from well-known and long-time medical folks, so we aren’t lost or alone.  And this is not new to the world, or to loving families (or to not-so-loving ones). But it’s new to us.

I feel the pinch of watching a man who played a hero in my life when I desperately needed one, moving from being a White Knight

to needing one.

And I know it is – and will be – sad, and that my tears are ludicrously stubborn and will not be stayed. And that’s fine with me (though I might try to control them now and then).

It can also be frustrating, trying to balance his struggles with making sure Granny is sleeping enough and healthy enough to be with him, and knows she is supported by us, as well as other family members and friends.

They will be married for sixty years in July. I want her to remember her love story, and not just this chapter. It is really important to me to help with this, when and where I can. It keeps me up at night.

Yes, it will be tough sometimes, but you never pack for a long journey with a single emotion.

We will also laugh, and enjoy a bit of dark humor (and sarcasm), and even unexplainable magic along the way – those small moments where you wonder about the timing, as you marvel at the significance.

Just last night I found myself rolling my eyes and smiling with John as we played a little ‘good cop, bad cop’ with Granny and Grampa, the way we seemed to naturally do, as a team, when the kids were little.

We both realized that we were using lessons and rhythms from raising our kids to guide and support his Dad, and his Mom.

And we are in this together – the whole better or worse  and sickness and health thing.

And I find myself wondering if I am completely crazy to sit here and type this and think that I am so lucky to have found these people, and be a part of this family.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thanks for readin’.

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