On Grandparents and Priorities and Life

I spent this afternoon with my grandparents, who are 87 (or 86, I can’t remember…whatever, they’re old!). My grandpa is amazing. He is a pro at researching things on the Internet (hopefully not my blog though), sending emails, opening attachments…he still drives, and mows and snow blows. And he goes out for coffee with his friends at the Wagner. Until a couple years ago, he was a volunteer ambulance driver and was employed by the county to deal with insurance matters.

I should have gotten a new pic today...maybe on Mother's Day!

I’ve always cared about my grandparents, and admired what honest and good people they are…even if they have never been very emotional or huggable. I went with Grandpa when I was a freshman in college to help him buy his first computer, and I’ve been his IT support for most of the last 13 years (my sister was for the two and a half years I lived in Boston). When we had to buy him a new computer a couple years ago, he was pretty frustrated with the learning curve, but he caught on quickly for an old dude.  We’ve made the font a little bigger, and arranged all the cords neatly enough so my grandma doesn’t have a heart attack about the mess. I’m really proud of him, and even though he can be a bit old fashioned, he’s softened in his old age. He said some seemingly heartless things to us when my sister died, like that we should stop being upset and that he wasn’t sure my mom would go to heaven when she died (and see Jen again) because she didn’t go to church (I laughed about that one and thought of what Jen’s comeback would have been—Who says Jen’s in heaven?  She didn’t go to church either!).

My grandpa has never talked to me about my sister. He’s avoided the subject like it was poison, and that feels hurtful sometimes. It feels like an invalidation or uncaring, or that it means they’d rather forget about her.

But today when I was fixing his computer and my grandma was out of the room, we had a conversation that went like this:

G: We’re gettin’ old.

Me: Well, it’s better to get old than to not get old, right?

G: That’s true. (pause) Jen didn’t get old.

Me: No, she wasn’t that lucky.

G: I think about Jen all the time. A lot. (pause and fidget) I really miss her. A lot.

Me: (facing the computer, afraid he’ll stop talking if I cry) Me too, Grandpa.

Grandpa on Christmas 1983

So my Grandpa isn’t heartless–and he really never was, he just didn’t know how to show emotion. It only took him 7 years to mention her not being here, and now that he’s old he’s more inclined to give me a hug and tell me he loves me. As my grandma is winding down mentally, he’s the most patient and caring person I’ve ever seen. He’s living the definition of “till death do us part.” There will be a day when they can’t live in their house anymore, but today they can. For now, it feels most important to spend more quality time with them. Talking with Grandpa today made me want to see him more often, because I know he won’t be there forever. Being too busy to stop by and visit is a priority issue on my part–and it’s not just about scheduling in time. It’s about quality and relationships and family. I don’t have a big family—in fact, it’s usually just me and my mom, or me and my dad. So when I feel jealous about people having big family dinners, or sisters to go shopping with (or fight with), I need to remember that I have my grandparents too.

And I probably shouldn’t have watched the entire first two seasons of Parenthood on Hulu this month, because it is exactly what I do not have in my family—-but it’s an awesome show and you should watch it 🙂

Grandma, Me, and Jen in 1980

The reflection for me on this day, and on things like tsunamis and nuclear disasters, is that life may be long or short and easy or hard—Either way, I don’t want to spend even a second of it without feeling the quality and meaningfulness, no matter how small.

Jessica from Dairy Free Betty posted the following quote today, and it’s something that just reminded me perfectly of how to be in the world. Of what matters (things like moments and grandparents), and what doesn’t (most everything else).

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered,

“Man, because he sacrifices his health in order to make money; then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

What could you change in your life’s priority list to add value to your life?

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