“Getting old is a bad idea,” my grandpa said to me as we walked the dog around the block. Everyday grandpa took the ol’girl on the same walk that he had memorized deep in his mind under the hazy layer of alzheimer’s. Though he was smart enough to know that something was wrong, it was bad enough that he couldn’t remember basic facts like how many kids he had. I shook my head at the obsession we have with youth, yet I felt bad for my grandpa.
Grandpa Dick is my father’s father. He was a highly intelligent man. He had the engineering kind of intelligence that wants to know how things work and figures them out. He could make anything. He worked JPL, part of NASA, and he put his own additions on his homes. Grandpa was strong and driven. One time, he rode his bicycle from L.A. to D.C. with a buddy of his. But he didn’t get to enjoy his retirement; by then he wasn’t putting things together very well. We thought he’d teach part-time, volunteer, and travel, but for the most part it was too late.
Grandma Rose is my mother’s mother. She was a little pistol, in the best possible sense. Her mind was always sharp, she had all of her eight siblings birthdays memorized, as well as each of their children, her children, and grandchildren. She knew everyone’s phone numbers too. I think that is where my mother and brother got their photographic memory. Just last year she told me in detail how to make gnocchi and beef brachial even though she hadn’t made it with her own hands in over ten years. She was a great Sicilian cook. She could sew too. She made jackets and skirts, everything. She made perfect high fashion Barbie doll clothes for me, until she couldn’t see well enough anymore. Then she couldn’t cook anymore either, so she taught grandpa Boyd, her husband to cook. She would sit in her seat and give him step-by-step instructions on how to make his favorite dishes that she had been making for over thirty years.
Now things are worse. Grandma Rose has been in a home for 4 years. She has the most faithful husband a place like that has ever seen. Grandpa Boyd is there three hours in the morning, and three hours in evening. For a while they had a routine, Fridays he would take her to the hair salon, and while she would get here hair done, he would eat at the Magic Wok. Then they would go visit Grandma Rose’s sister Nicka. Sundays, he would bring her her purse and her wedding ring and they would go to church. I always thought she’d have colored and styled hair till the day she died. I was wrong. She got a lung infection last Spring. After that, she stopped eating for a while and soon she was too weak to get up, now she can’t go out anymore. She eats a little pureed food a day. She sleeps a lot. Still, I did get to show her my wedding video. She felt like she was there. She called me her doll.
Grandpa Dick is getting worse too. Some things were funny. You had to laugh so you didn’t cry. One time we were sitting at the dinning room table and grandpa got up to go to the bathroom, after a minute grandma Margie followed him to make sure he was ok. She came back in the room shaking her head. Grandpa was peeing in the kitchen sink. Some things were sweet. Grandpa would be driving grandma crazy the whole day, making a ticking sound with his mouth, tapping his figure, and telling her to watch out of other cars on the road, and out of the blue he would tell her that he loved her. He is still that way, even though his own doctor said that he went off a cliff in the last three months. Sometimes he falls asleep in his chair and he is so hard to wake up. Even when he wakes up it is like he is walking in his sleep, and he rarely makes eye contact. Then when grandma Margie hugged him goodnight a few evenings ago, he said, “I love you.” He told me he loved me too.
Whenever Grandpa told me that getting old was a bad idea, I wanted to disagree with him, to tell him to enjoy this season of life. But, who was I kidding? How could my grandparents enjoy the season of their lives where their minds failed them, their bodies failed them, or their spouses had to be put in homes. One time Grandma Rose told me that it just wasn’t right, not getting to live with her husband. “What does this mean for my marriage?”, she asked rhetorically. I felt like crying.
There was a children’s book series that my parents read to me when I was young called, “Tales of the Kingdom.” One of my favorite parts in those stories, was when the old women, aged and ugly to the world, danced in celebration. When they would dance they would be transformed into the most beautiful creatures, and hunched over backs would be made straight, and wobbly knees made strong. This image has been forever cemented in my mind. When I look at the old and frail, I think this is not how they really are…this is only how they appear. And someday, someday they will be transformed. I hope that those I love will be able to enjoy all the days of their lives, no matter what comes. So I bring grandpa Dick a milkshake, and I bring grandma Rose home baked sweets. But on the days that it is difficult to enjoy this season, I long for them to remember that this is not the end. Things are not as they seem. Someday, I’ll be reminding myself of the same thing.