My sisters and I went to visit our grandmother today at the nursing home. She has dementia, and is slowly losing her memory. It makes me sad to think of her in a nursing home, even though I know that’s where she needs to be. It’s hard for me to reconcile this woman who was larger than life my entire childhood, with the sad and often confused woman we saw today.
Growing up, my grandmother represented everything good in the world. My dad adopted me when I was 12. Even though I wasn’t hers biologically, she welcomed me with open arms and loved me like her own. So many of my happiest childhood memories are tied to her. For my fifth grade graduation, she and my grandfather took me and my best friend Sarah on a road trip to Niagara Falls. She made everything the coolest adventure. We camped a lot on that trip, and Sarah and I had our own tent. My Gram packed us a radio, a footstool to use as a table, a lamp, and so much more. It sounds silly, but she always thought of ways to make everything better. That trip, with all the stops along the way, was one of the best times of my entire life.
Gram had me over for sleepovers all the time. I loved being in their white house in Hudson. At night she would let me swim with the colored lens over the pool light. It was magical. I have so many memories of hanging out in that pool with my grandfather keeping me company. He was such a good man.
Halloween was always a fun time with her. I have pictures of my friend and I dressed up as punk rockers, in my Gram’s shirts and jean skirts. One year we entered a jack-o-lantern competition. My Gram and I spent hours making the coolest Cabbage Patch Kid pumpkin, complete with yellow yarn hair.
In addition to doing fun things with us, she was the memory keeper. She took thousands of pictures of everything over the years. As an adult with children of my own, I can now fully appreciate the effort she took to preserve those moments in time for us. She taught me important life lessons, like always send a thank you card. I remember she used to give me thank you cards to mail after my birthday or Christmas to make sure I’d send them.
Over the past couple of years, as she started deteriorating, I felt an urgent need to let her know what a difference she made in my life. In an upbringing filled with chaos, she was my one constant. She showed me what family meant; she loved me unconditionally like nobody else had. I was a difficult teenager and young adult. I struck out on my own and couldn’t be bothered with things like keeping in touch with my grandparents. Through all those selfish years, she was there. Loving me without judgement whenever I got around to visiting. As I sat with her today and watched her struggle to remember our names, as I watched her try to be positive even though she knows her memory is slipping away, I wondered if she knew. If I had found a way to convey to her the monumental effect she had on my life.
As I ponder life, I’m acutely aware that in no time at all I will be old. It is my hope that I will pass on enough of my grandmother’s legacy to my children that someday my grandkids will be in the place that I’m in now, and they will just know. Love your people now, while you can. It is truly all that matters in this life.
My grandparents, Jim and Arlene Calder, in 1978.