This past weekend I had the great (and not so great) pleasure of taking care of my grandparents. I stayed one night and two days so I could help out my mother and let her have a free night so she could go to her high school reunion. It seemed like a small favor and an easy task, so I did it without hesitation. However, in those hours I was alone with my grandparents I realized how much I’ve grown up and how much they have grown old.
My grandmother used to be a no-nonsense, pencil skirt wearing, cake making, blankie-giving flower enthusiast. She used to have a sharp wit, a silver tongue and bossy attitude (in a good way). She adored cooking, flowers and had a habit of always looking sharp and regal no matter the occasion. The last time that we talked we had a fight about who was nosier and why I had to listen to her because she was an adult and I a mere child; I was nine. The last time she looked at me with knowledge of my existence it was her 50th wedding anniversary and she was crying at the story I wrote about her and grandpa. Now she is only a memory of all those things. She is a dementia patient who can’t feed, dress, or bathe herself. Now she is equal to a baby, but she does not grow, learn or leave her bed. This is the state I have grown accustomed to seeing her in.
My grandfather used to be a strong military man who went to Korea at seventeen, became a cop in his thirties, and loved God his whole life. He used to be the figure of authority wherever he set foot, but had a smooth style, loved clothes, fast cars and always had a kind word and a helping hand to anyone who needed it. The last time we talked he told me how bad he felt about leaving God, and how he is glad that God has forgiven him for his sins and his weakness. The last time he looked at me and recognized who I was, was this last weekend when he realized I came to visit. He has still some sense in him, but being a cancer survivor and a future dementia patient has taken all the strength he once had. He can get dressed, he can eat but he forgets how to bathe, where he lives and why he takes so many meds. I already went through this with my grandmother, but the blow is still as deep when I see him following her into the darkness.
I’m pretty conscious of what the changes in their lifestyle are. I know where they will lead and the impact they will cause in my family. Still, one can’t help but feel sad about it all. They took care of me once and now it is I who is taking care of them. Yet, as I grew, I looked, I loved and I learned to recognize them. Today they look, and I’m sure they love, but they don’t recognize me. My grandmother hasn’t spoken a word in years and my grandfather can barely finish a sentence. It’s hard, but it’s life.
I’ve learned to quietly accept these changes; there is nothing else to do. However, it was not until I saw that there were no flowers that I realized how much has changed. Reader, let me explain: My grandmother loved flowers of every color. She planted them all over the backyard; there was even a small garden of wild roses and my grandfather liked keeping the backyard grassy and green. She was very proud of her little flowers and he was very diligent in his work; I was very enamored with both. I used to sit hours under the thorn bushes and dream of having my own garden. I would roll around in the grass, even though I found it itchy. It was their hard work which I valued and admired.
Every time I would visit, before leaving, I would go out back and smell the roses, marvel at the colors, and sit on the grass. Yet this time there were no roses, no colors, and no grass. I stood there, camera in hand, dumbfounded and confused asking myself where did the flowers go. I turned, alienated as I did, and I noticed the green patches of grass were no longer there as well. The pathway and the garden were gone. Now it was just an ordinary backyard. There was no vibrant care, no love and no grandma or grandpa. As I turned I could see my grandfather, through a window, in the living room dazed and asleep; my grandmother was in a similar stupor in her room. And I was standing outside, with a camera waiting to catch the memories of my childhood on film, take them with me on my trip. Needless to say no pictures were taken that day (not of flowers, anyway), no memories were captured. However, an epiphany rang through me as I saw that this was the reality.
I guess what I noticed that day was that a part of me does not accept the changes life has dealt my family. A part of me still expects my grandfather to be in his happy and talkative mood while my grandmother is able to still make cakes and grow beautiful flowers. This will no longer happen. My grandparents have reached a state where they can no longer have agency or strength. They count on their loved ones to do most of the things for them. Most of all, I will never be that plumpy child with cake and blankie in hand who ran outside eager to sit under the rose bush. These are memories, good ones, but they will not come back again.
People are like the garden my grandmother loved so much; new life always sprouted, no matter how small the bud, and old flowers died, no matter how beautiful they once were. However, it is important to remember that they were all beautiful once; with their bright colors, light scent and nice memories. Appreciate each flower, its time is limited and it won’t shine forever.