Jun 19, 2009

On Stubborn Independence, Cheating Death, and Ticking Clocks

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I have been spending a lot of time lately with my maternal grandfather, who is the man pictured on your left. Part of this is because he recently had surgery, and I wanted to make sure that he and my grandmother - both of whom are in their early nineties - had everything they needed. Yet I have to admit I also have been spending time with these terrific folks to make up for some years when work and school took precedence over visiting with family members: I somewhat selfishly want to glean all the wisdom and memories from him that I can while his mind is still so sharp.

Oh, and he and my grandmother are excellent company, too. Sometimes my wife and I go up for a "quick" visit that ends up being five or six hours, and we are amazed that so much time has passed just drinking coffee and hearing old stories about me peeling off vinyl wallpaper in a hallway when I was four.

My grandfather is fiercely independent, and he has steadfastly refused to consider moving out of the home he has owned since the early 1940s. Up until the last few years he has been the picture of perfect health, but arthritis is beginning to take its toll on his knees and right hip. Yet how long, exactly, can he defy the odds and cheat infirmity and death?

My mom has been at odds with my grandfather in her gentle-but-persistent efforts to get him to move to an assisted living facility. She worries about these old folks, and knows that my grandmother is completely reliant upon my grandfather due to her near-complete loss of vision. Yet I refuse to get in the middle of this debate, in large part because my grandfather is still managing quite well on his own: he still drives, does the grocery shopping, and takes care of a lot of the housecleaning.

My grandfather is also blessed by having a pair of angels in his next door neighbors, who often bring hot meals and help out with all sorts of neighborly kindness, like cutting his lawn and carrying out his trash cans for him. These saintly people watch out for my grandparents as if they were their own family, and I am almost ashamed when I look at the comparatively paltry amount of help I offer my elderly neighbors here in Toledo.

Yet despite the help of his neighbors, and the fact that my wife and I often drive up to visit and check up on them, my grandparents will not live forever. I dread the day when I get the inevitable phone call, but this thought is also a powerful motivator: no matter how much longer my grandparents continue to defy death, I know that I will not have pangs of regret for missing out on their last years.

And if I inspire just one reader to phone an elderly relative or to take a long drive to check up on someone, this will be the most important post I write this month.

Or maybe any month.

1 comment:

Carol said...

Mike - Cherish and enjoy every moment with them. They are wiser than one could believe, have lessons to impart, and are so very grateful for every day they have on earth.

Your grandfather looks like my grandpa - stubborn as a mule with a heart as big as the ocean.

Enjoy them!