By Juliette Glasow
As a parent, I harbored the usual notions of what it means to be a grandparent and eagerly anticipated the fast-approaching day our children’s “Grandma” would retire and assume a larger role the day-to-day life of our family. I pictured her reading books to the kids, taking them to the library, parks and concerts, baking with them, and playing games. After all, even with a one-hour commute to her full-time job, she somehow managed to be at the hospital for all of our children’s births, tears of joy trickling down her cheeks as she held each child for the first time. She often bought special gifts for the kids, sang songs, baked apple pies, and joined us on outings. Family photos captured her wearing her bright yellow apron surrounded by grand-children’s happy faces… or kissing the baby on his soft check. Her lap was a “favorite” hang-out for all our kids as babies.
However, rather unexpectedly, no sooner did Grandma retire, than she was also diagnosed with debilitating dementia that led to her steady mental decline. The disease took a strong toll on an otherwise highly intelligent woman who had served for many years in Washington D.C. as a member of the Christian Legal Society, and an attorney for the Peace Corps. and Legal Services. She had also worked vigilantly to uphold the right to life from conception to natural death. And yet, within a month of the diagnosis, doctors had already deemed it unsafe for her to drive. Dreams of what it would mean to have a grandparent around the house altered as we began caring for Grandma on a daily basis.
Although entirely unforeseen, what did transpire within our home could almost be deemed miraculous— for despite Grandma’s inability to remember a birthday or give gifts and to read a book or eventually even to follow a conversation, love grew. Love grew within our children and love grew within Grandma. Grandma needed more hugs and we all gave her more hugs. Grandma needed someone to reassure her and gently hold her hand through meals and conversations with guests. We reassured her and held her hand. Grandma needed someone to do everyday ordinary things with her, such as walking around the mall. We walked with her. We shared our days, the simple highs and lows.
Somehow, in the midst of all those ordinary things, our three-year-old learned what it meant to be gentle and affectionate. He will give everyone, even perfect strangers a hug now. Our five-year-old learned what it meant to be chivalrous. He opened doors for Grandma and held her hand crossing the street. He began asking us all to wait if she lagged behind. And our seven-year-old learned what it meant to put herself in another person’s shoes. She felt compassion for Grandma and often drew pictures for her and wrote her affectionate notes. She asked to sit with her in her room most days.
Caring for Grandma was not always easy; there were many hard times and some sad times. But there were many joy-filled moments too. Once, upon returning from the hospital after having had a stroke, Grandma’s face lit-up at the sight of her grandchildren. She couldn’t have called them by name and yet all the pain and weariness just sloughed off suddenly replaced by a smile I shall never forget. She was as bright as ever. No words could express the gratitude and love she felt over being with us again. And the children felt the same. They ran to her, showering her with hugs and kisses.
Her grandchildren knew that her favorite color was yellow. They knew her favorite foods and her favorite TV shows. They knew all the little trifles there is to know about someone and they loved her. Whether she could crochet a blanket or remember their birthdays or even their names didn’t matter. All that mattered in the end was the love they shared for one another. In so many unexpected ways, Grandma brought beauty to their souls.
(“Grandma” passed away peacefully in her room in March of 2012 with her grandchildren at her side.)