At various times in this newsletter, you may have seen me mention my grandmother. In May of 2006, I brought her from her long time home in Ft. Worth, Texas, to Hays. Now, 93 years of age, she lives in an assisted living facility.
Each day I try to visit with her, now that she is just down the street from me. Knowing that she is looked after, knowing that I can see to her on a moment’s notice, knowing that qualified, kind people make sure she is safe, has been a tremendous blessing for me. Being able to be so close to my grandmother has been one of the most special times of my life.
But how does my grandmother feel? I know she is doing much better than she has in years; I know she feels better, feels safer. Many of the fears she had while living alone are now gone. Is that enough?
During my several conversations with her, she has asked, more or less rhetorically, “why did I live to be 93? I never thought I would live to be this old. I never dreamed I would outlive my parents, my brothers, and all three of my children. I never dreamed I could make it through all of that.”
It is a difficult question, and I have tried, unsuccessfully, to answer it–usually by making a joke. It remains a question that I want to help her answer.
My grandmother is a religious person, and since we are coming into the Christmas season, I thought it might be appropriate to talk about the answer–especially when I just learned what the answer may be.
Like many of you, my family has a Thanksgiving tradition. It would customarily be Thanksgiving in Wichita with my wife’s family; or, a trip to Texas to be with my grandmother; and sometimes we would do both (a lot of driving)!
Since this was the first Thanksgiving for my grandmother living in Kansas, we started making alternative plans. First, we let my wife’s family know that we were going to do Thanksgiving at our place in Hays. Then, I started calling family members that had connections with my grandmother. After making sure all three of my sons would be home for Thanksgiving, my next call was to my sister and her family. While we were at it, we decided to call her son and his family living in Lawrence, who we had not seen in three years. Then we contacted a former family member who divorced from our family and remarried, but who nevertheless remained very important. Finally we contacted a family member from Texas who was an in-law, but separated from the family because of the death of my uncle . All agreed to come, twenty in all. Families came in from several parts of Kansas, from Missouri, from Texas, and from Indiana.
Some of the family came in on Tuesday, and the remainder trickled in on Thursday. As each group of families arrived, it was a chance to reacquaint ourselves before others came. People brought some of their favorite dishes; others put on aprons and helped with food preparation.
At about 12:30 PM on Thanksgiving, the widow of my deceased uncle went over to the assisted living home. She helped my grandmother put on make-up and “dress-up,” much like she use to do when my uncle was alive. It was a moment that brought back many memories for both of them.
When my grandmother arrived at my home, she was greeted by my stepfather, who she had not seen in several years. Though divorced from my now deceased mom, he remained best friends with my grandfather until my grandfather passed away and calls my grandmother every year on her birthday and at Christmas, but he sees my grandmother only every few years.
Also greeting my grandmother was her great grandson and his family, with his two children, the great, great grandchildren of my grandmother. One of the great, great grandchildren (now 4 years old) had not been born the last time my grandmother had seen her great grandson.
All three of my sons met her at the door, and it reminded me that sometimes, because of their own lives, they do not get to see her every year like I do, especially all three of them together.
Especially poignant was the greeting between my grandmother and her other grandson, who so resembles his deceased father to the degree that just seeing him brings a flood of joy and sadness.
It was a great time for visiting, hugs and tears of long separated relationships being rekindled.
After everyone was there, I had a few moments to reflect and then it dawned on me–I knew at least a part, if not all, of the answer to my grandmother’s question.
Before we ate, we gathered together for a prayer and a family photograph. And then the toast. I related to everyone the question my grandmother had asked me: “Why did I live to be 93?”
The answer I gave her: “Grandma, there is only one thing here that is common to all of us. It is you. Because you are here, because you are 93 years old, all of us are here together as a family, all because of you.”
All of us realized that but for my grandmother, we would not all have been together. Because of my grandmother living to be 93 years of age, we all came together and realized that we are still important to each other, and despite changes in our lives, we need to stay in touch.
Sometimes I think as people grow into seniors, like my grandmother, they forget how important they are to our families. Sometimes as children, or grandchildren, we bemoan the tradition of going to see our parents or grandparents, when it is they that tie so many different parts of our family together.
To our seniors, thank you for reminding us how important it is to stay in touch with our family. To all of you, lets be thankful for the “obligation” we have at Christmas and Thanksgiving to get together. Let us all realize at this time of the year how important our seniors have been in our lives, both in the past and in the present.
Merry Christmas and God’s love to you all.