January 2, 2007

JB’s grandmother isn’t expected to live much longer. She’s in an assisted care facility and has been on hospice care for a while, she’s mostly stopped eating and drinking in the last several days. They are pretty much just keeping her comfortable with morphine at this point, although she’s been remarkably healthy until now (she’s 94).

JB has talked about how sad it is that for all the happy memories he has of being a child and spending time with his grandparents, now at the end of her life he feels so distant from her. His grandfather, too, was once a cherished part of JB’s childhood, but as JB grew older and his grandfather began to diminish with Alzheimer’s, their relationship changed.

I know how he feels. I loved my grandparents when I was a kid and my best memories of being young revolve around being with them at their house in Michigan. Yet by the time they died my feelings for them were totally different — it wasn’t that I loved them less, it was just that they had grown old and sick and I was an adult and that sweet childhood time was so long ago.

It is sad, but natural. If things happen that way it means long lives were lived and there’s probably no ending that would be perfect, but at least the ending didn’t come too soon.

Riley will never know his great-grandparents, but maybe someday he’ll hear stories about their lives and the happiness they brought his own parents when they were young.

:::

I remember: a pink plastic elephant named Pinky that had four rickety wheels and could be ridden, slowly, if you pushed your way along with both feet. One magical summer a Big Wheel showed up, and with that Pinky was left in the dust. I would pedal the Big Wheel on the wooden deck that surrounded my grandparents’ house, leaving a rhythmic, satisfying ca-clunk ca-clunk ca-clunk in my wake as I clattered over the boards.

I remember: riding around the front of the house and past the side yard, a picture-perfect square of fresh-mowed green flanked by woods, then around to the back where the wind from the lake would ruffle my hair. Pedaling around the picnic tables (with the attached umbrellas I would watch my grandfather open for the first time each summer and use a broom to shoo out the sleepy bats clinging to the folded-up cloth), then past the screened-in porch where I would lie with my grandmother in the dusky evenings and watch the night descend (listening to the forest rustle and twitter with nocturnal life, whippoorwills and loons sounding their lonely cries), and onto the walkway. The Big Wheel’s noise changing with the smaller boards, coming in faster clatters now, and my eyes shaded against grasshoppers flying every which way in the beach grass. The creepy, papery sounds of snakes hurriedly slithering away from my echoing approach, and the way the grass bent and swayed with their unseen movements.

I remember: the cook house where my grandmother had summer meals for a giant table of relatives, where my plastic beach toys were stored in dusty, cobwebbed corners. The smell of gasoline in the garage, a smell I can’t get enough of to this day. The Tote Gote scooter my grandfather let me ride on the gravel road leading to their house. The slippery, dry feel of plunging my hands into the metal can of sunflower seeds we used to feed the chipmunks and birds. Butterfinger bars my grandmother hid before drawing up treasure hunts for me with X’s marking the candy’s location. My toy ranch with hundreds of now-politically incorrect figurines: cowboys, Indians, men wielding rifles, tiny mess pots, cattle. The taste of wild blueberries, each fruit smaller than a pencil eraser. Pink Ladyslippers, white Queen Anne’s Lace, Brown-Eyed Susans. The jewel-like green chrysalis of a monarch butterfly. The cold splutter of Lake Michigan, calm on a summer day, unrecognizable from its wild white winter froth.

All that and more.

:::

If only we could go back and visit those days, see our grandparents with healthy faces again. Their eyes full of joy for us. That unconditional love. We’d bring our little boy, sneak him across the years. Imagine that, my grandfather holding Riley on his knee. JB’s grandmother, her hands unknotted, her body unconfined by the ravages of age, laughing with her grand-grandson.

I guess that’s what people talk about, when they talk about heaven.

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Melinda
Melinda
15 years ago

Beautiful!

Heather
Heather
15 years ago

wow. this was beautiful. for real.

warcrygirl
15 years ago

I’ll be writing a blog entry like this soon, my grandma (the one who helped raise me) is in poor health and has been for the past few years. She just turned 80 last month and I DREAD the day I get that phonecall. I wish I had interviewed my great grandma when I had the chance; the same with my grandpa. Maybe you could make a scrapbook for Riley when he’s older so he can put a face with the name. I have too many relatives that I was told about yet know nothing about because I never got to “see” them. Hugs to you and JB.

Mama Ritchie
15 years ago

Dude you made me cry. Thanks a lot.

Our thoughts are with JB and you during this difficult time.

Stephanie B.
Stephanie B.
15 years ago

Three of my Grandparents passed away in 2000, four years before my daughter was born. Not a day goes by without my recalling some small, beautiful moment I spent with them and my silent wish that she could somehow grow up knowing them. She won’t know them like I did, but I hope my small stories here and there and the little traditions we have will somehow pass on some of their love to her. They would have adored her, and she would have adored them too.

Thank you for sharing this story with us – I was bawling two paragraphs in, but it was a good cry, the kind you feel better for when your done. I’m very sorry for the sadness in your lives at the moment, but I’m also happy for you and for JB’s Grandmother that you had that wonderful love in your lives.

Caitlin
Caitlin
15 years ago

So beautiful. I can still clearly remember reading Sweet Pickles books with my grandfather, my Mom’s Dad who passed away when I was 4. My other grandfather lived in downstate NY and would bring me frilly dresses every Christmas; he passed away when I was 7. They are both perpetually in that twinkly little-girl memory land, resting peacefully, I hope.

I love the idea of Riley with you and JB and his young great-grandparents. You can’t take him there physically, but you’ll just have to transport him there with your elegant, lovely writing.

victoria
victoria
15 years ago

That was very, very beautiful.

Sonia
15 years ago

*sniff* I miss my Grandpa. This was lovely.

E
E
15 years ago

*sniff sniff* I agree.

Now excuse me while I go bawl my eyes out.

Me Ra Koh Photography
15 years ago

Thanks so much for your entry today. Beautiful descriptions. I visit your blog often, and it’s wild that we both wrote about the beauty of our grandparents today. My Korean grandmother has been gone for three years, but yesterday, it was like she was back for a moment.

Mona
15 years ago

There is great truth in this post.

Lawyerish
15 years ago

This is just lovely.

Sometimes I miss the two grandparents I’ve lost so much, and it upsets me to no end that my children won’t know them at all, won’t have the same memories as I do of our family reunions and summers at the house on the lake in Illinois, with its particular smell and its old passed-down toys and its Charlie Brown sheets. But as you say, there is a vast space of time between those days and the time of their deaths — my grandmother’s in particular, as she declined steadily for ten years with Alzheimers. For many of those years, she only occasionally manifested a glimmer of the woman I knew as my Grammie. I hope now she has been restored to her days of youth, laughter, beauty and intelligence.

My thoughts are with you, JB and Riley.

samantha
samantha
15 years ago

Thank you for a lovely entry. I sometimes get so wrapped up in my life, that I sometimes forget about all of the great memories I have of my great grandmother, and my grandfather. Thank you for reminding me to take the time to honor them by revisiting those times and places.

Shannon
15 years ago

Man oh man, this sure hits home. I got a call from my mom yesterday telling me that my 93 year old grandmother went into congestive heart failure over the weekend and that she’s in the hospital, can’t live by herself anymore, don’t know if she will make it out of the hospital. She came up to my wedding a few months ago and she was so thrilled to be there with the family. I was hoping it wasn’t the last time I ever saw her because as the bride, I was so distracted and being pulled in so many directions, I didn’t really spend much time with her. And I was regretting it as it was happening.

I love my grandmother so much, she is the last of my grandparents still alive. She’s sharp as a tack, still smokes and drinks and tells hilarious dirty jokes. She loves to tell the story of how she hitchhiked across the country at the age of 19 and eventually met my grandfather in Alaska, who asked her to marry her a few days later. She’s full of stories of life and love and sneaking tequila across the Mexican border back in the old days.

I sure hope I can see her one last time.

Nikki
15 years ago

My Grams died this Spring, just a few days shy of my birthday.
It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever lived through.
I was extremely close to my grandparents as a kid and was lucky enough to remain so as they aged. Grams was also in assisted living but prior to that, I was given the opportunity to help
care for her and I won’t ever say I regret that. At times it was difficult but certainly worth it.
You shared your memories so beautifully. Thank you for that.
Thoughts and prayers to JB.

Amy M
Amy M
15 years ago

you rule.

Meg
Meg
15 years ago

That was beautiful. Thanks.

My own grandfather is not doing too well right now, so this struck close to home.

claire
15 years ago

oh, so sweet.

i miss my grandpa.

Liz
Liz
15 years ago

My grandmother died about a week before my daughter (her namesake) was born. She never got to see Lilia but she did know that I planned to name her after her. Since I was huge and 2000 miles away I wasn’t able to attend the funeral. I regret that, but my grandma was 89 years old and was ready to go. Because of that I didn’t have the sadness that I did when my grandfather died suddenly 20 years ago.

Alyson
15 years ago

My Children have all been blessed with memories of my husband’s grandparents. And my husband and I have memories (and photos) of (Great) Grandpa Roy with a baby on his chest yodeling softly to them. He was the best baby husher in the world! And the best playmate. My middle son recently said he planned to name a son after Grandpa Roy. How sweet!

Jamie
15 years ago

I think the sheer fact that you can so vividly remember your own past is a strong indication that you will have no problem communicating to Riley about the details of his grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. My only surviving grandparent is 93, and the quiet matriarch of our family…we all know the day is coming when we will lose her, but choose to live for the “now,” both because we can and because we have to.

I hope that you all can embrace what you have now, and continue to celebrate that into the future. Thinking of you during this difficult time.

emily
emily
15 years ago

i held it together until the last two paragraphs.

i’m so sorry about JB’s grandma. it still sucks, even though he’s not as close with her anymore.

Sue
Sue
15 years ago

Beautiful!
Happy New Year!

missbanshee
15 years ago

My Papa is in the last stages of Alzheimers, and this post was perfect in this terrible time. Thank you, Sundry.

Meg
Meg
15 years ago

I’m glad you said it was normal to grow apart from our grandparents, to not know them as well as they age and become frail and sick. That is how I feel about my grandmother, but was feeling kind of guilty, thinking that it was just my family or something. I’m not glad that it happens, but I’m glad that it’s not just me, you know?

Sara
15 years ago

I too have fond memories of my paternal grandparents. My daughter’s middle name was planned to be be my grandmother’s middle name and I can’t help but think that her two-weeks-early arrival on my grandmother’s birthday was not altogether coincidental. The moments do stay with us, as cheesy as it sounds — and perhaps guide us in some way.

Staci
15 years ago

Beautiful. You have a gift… your writing is so, so beautiful. And I agree with you about Heaven.

bethy
bethy
15 years ago

Absolutely, stunningly beautiful. I love the way you write; I am echoing everyone else in saying you need to write a book.

As someone who spent many Michigan summers with her grandparents right down the road, this rings so true. I miss those days.

You are incredibly talented!

mandy
15 years ago

I hate it when you make me cry so early in the morning. Darn you Linda!

wealhtheow
15 years ago

I’m so sorry to hear about JB’s grandmother. My husband’s grandmother just passed away a few weeks ago, and it really was the end of an era.

Ang
Ang
15 years ago

Great entry. Powerful!

Sadie
Sadie
15 years ago

This was a touching tribute to your grandparents and the verdant memories they made for you! My memories of my grandparents all seem very summery too; their great expanse of green lawn, my grandfather plying me with popsicles (“take it outside, outside!”), picking his ripe tomatoes off the vine and putting them on the table, sliced on a platter with salt, no matter what else the meal was, or whether tomatoes “went.” And grandparents always had the greatest cache of old, dangerous toys, didn’t they? The good, rusty, time-tested toys that today’s kids will never know. Sad. I hope my mom keeps some original, misogynist barbies somewhere in her house, along with some metal guns, for my future kids.

Lisa-Marie
15 years ago

That was beautifully written! I’m sure Riley will love hearing stories about his great-grandparents as he’s growing up.

Allie
Allie
15 years ago

I’m with everyone on this post, it’s very beautiful. I’m lucky enough to have a pair of grandparents left, not that I ever see them but that’s a long, very personal story. My Great-grandpa died when I was 14 and it makes me very sad that if I ever have children they will never get to go to his house on the lake and fish like I did. But I have pictures and stories so he will be remembered. And dammit, I just started to cry!

Ponies
15 years ago

I’m not usually a commenter, but I read your site everyday and you always give me something to either think about or laugh about.

The fact that I still have three of my four Grandparents left, and they are still in reasonably good health, is one of the main reasons I am conisidering having children a whole lot sooner than I really think I’m ready for. I really want my kids to know their Great-Grandparents and I really want my Grandparents to have the chance to know and enjoy their Great-Grandchildren.

erica
15 years ago

I lost my Nanny four years ago and then mom two years ago. It makes me so sad that my daughter will never know them. I do, however, take comfort in the fact that I’ll be able to pass on stories and memories of them to her. I’ll do my best to make them live again in her heart.

Thank you for this post.

Jennifer
15 years ago

That was beautiful. JB’s grandmother and your family will be in my thoughts.

MRW
MRW
15 years ago

I was never close to my grandparents for various reasonsl. My son, however, is very close to his grandparents and I’m hoping like crazy they will all remain vibrant and healthy for a long time so he has the kinds of memories of them that you have. Your post made me hope my son will retain happy, healthy memories of his grandparents when they are old or ill. Beautifully written. Thanks.

lilacstripe
15 years ago

That is a lovely post

Donna
Donna
15 years ago

. . . crying. . . .

Audrey
Audrey
15 years ago

One of my grandmother’s is in a memory care unit and the other is probably headed into one as well. When I saw the grandparents in assisted living/memory care at Christmas, we reminded them that the next time they see us, we’ll have their first great-grandchild in our arms. I know that if she remembers nothing else, she’ll remember this great-grandchild in the way she remembers that we brought our then-puppy to visit her last Christmas. The human mind is amazing and while I truly dislike visiting them because I want to remember who they were, not who they’ve become, I don’t think I’ll be able to contain my tears when I see my grandparents with their great-grandchild.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
15 years ago

My grandfather died last February. He had been on hospice care and in and out of the hospital for a long time. The day before he died, he called my school (I was a senior in high school) and asked the secretary about me. I had just gotten back from a trip to New York for dance auditions. The secretary knew who I was and said I was doing great, and he said he was just calling to check. I never talked to him after that, and I found out a week later that he had called that day. My father lives 6 hours away (it was his father) so when he found out about it, I was the nearest family member and had to go take care of things immediately after my grandfather’s death. It was the saddest thing I’ve ever done. I have two younger siblings, 10 and 11, and they probably won’t remember their grandfather with the vividness that I will, and that is so unfortunate. I think everyone sort of deifies their grandparents, and for most of us their deaths are our first experiences with funerals and losses, etc.

I guess that was just a long way of saying that I hurt for you guys, and you are in my thoughts. But between you and JB, I’m sure Riley will grow up with wonderful stories of his great-grandparents and the days of yore. :)

Deanna
Deanna
15 years ago

Someone wrote this to an earlier post…but write a book already! I was there, on the big wheel… You are a great writer. I must go now and sob silently at desk.

jen
jen
15 years ago

oh grandparents. how i have always loved mine so. i like many above dread that phone call saying my last grandparent is no longer around. she is an abolutely amazing woman whom i should call more often and stop and see when i am in town. when i go home this weekend i will surely do that now. thanks for the reminder of how precious these people can be to us.

Dana
15 years ago

I really loved this post, gawd, you made me cry!
My grandfather, my last remaining grandparent, died a couple of hours after my son’s birth. We were very close. One of the last things he was told was that he had a healthy great-grandson. I cried my heart out the entire first night in the hospital and I nearly bit the nurses who tried to whisk my newborn away for the night. I was alone; my husband had to go home with our older son so my parents, who were sitting, could be with my grandfather as he died.
It was the best and worst day of my life.
Anyway, loved the post.

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