I’m at the point in my life where I’m able to realise how little I knew my grandparents. I spent a few weeks in Granny Grace’s house in Trinidad each year and since I was 11 or so, Granny Helen lived in the same country as me. I always joked that Granny Grace’s favourite word was “elegant” (I was not a ladylike young woman) and could put on wuk up shows that would have Granny Helen clutching her stomach in pain from excessive laughter, but beyond their respective “grandmothering” personalities, I really didn’t know them much as people.
Dealing with aging family members has been a regular conversation in my house since my grandfather got sick 15+ years ago. I’ve learned a lot from these talks. I know that my parents are good with being put in a nursing home. I know they don’t want to be a burden to their children. I know if they could choose, they would pass like my mother’s parents (short illness and then fairly quickly) and not like my dad’s (a decade of steadily going downhill).
But in me taking in my parents’ talking about/figuring out/doing the practical things around caring – the writing of cheques, the grocery shopping, the lifting my grandparents out of bed and into their wheelchairs every morning – I didn’t take in much of the other stuff. Maybe I was resentful of my grandparents’ aging processes because of my father’s increasingly bad back and the sheer amount of time the practical care took up. Maybe I was too young/immature and my grandparents were too unwell for most of my life for me to understand/know anything else. Whatever it was, I never quite learned how to get to know and love my grandparents.
So what I’ve learned about loving the old(er) people in my life isn’t necessarily things I’ve learned, so much as things that in hindsight, I wish I would have done with my grannies especially. And it’s not just about old(er) people I guess, it’s about people who are around me who I often don’t take time to know beyond their “role” in my life, but would like to: grandparents, parents, teachers, cleaners, whoever…
- Ask questions. Everyday, we create at least one new story. This means people over the age of 80 too many stories to tell if you ask the right questions. I would have asked grannies what their parents were like, about first loves and first jobs, what their favourite colours were.
- Be open. I don’t think my grandparents knew me that well either. I wish I’d told them a little more about myself and my interests.
- Spend time from playing cards or scrabble, to sitting down and doing nothing. All the times I couldn’t think of anything to say, or was anxious to get back to my “real” life (and by real I mean virtual since I live(d) on my computer), I wish I had brought the book or laptop into the room and just sat in her presence a little bit longer.
Happy birthday, Granny!