My grandparents are a large part of why Team Senior exists. Growing up, unlike my friends, I spent all of my free time – weekends and holidays – with my grandparents. The memories are endless…. baking cookies, working in the wood shop with my grandfather, horseback riding and making mud pies. My grandfather called me Big-Bird and he always made me laugh – driving through stop signs or smashing black widows with his thumb just to get a rise out of my grandmother...
While my grandmother spent endless hours with me watching Phil Donahue, coloring at the table or teaching me how to cook things like tapioca, a favorite dessert that I continue to try to make myself but without her special touch fails every time. I felt safe and loved and happy every single minute that I was with them.
Even as a child I recognized the special relationship that I had with them, and grew fearful of what life would be like when they were gone. When I was a teenager they moved to Colorado, and as you can imagine, this was a very emotional experience. To this day I still visit that old house on Crawford Road in Modesto, California and believe in my heart that I will somehow find a way to buy back their small ranch just to relive the comforts of that home and share stories with my kids about all the amazing experiences that I had there.
As we all grew older, the evolution began to take place; I got busy in my life, they developed new routines, and so forth, and for about five years we only saw each other every 18 months or so until my grandfather became ill…
Talk about a wakeup call. I immediately began traveling back and forth more often trying to spend as much time with him as possible. As you can imagine this went on for years, and not to the liking of my employer or my checkbook.
Emphysema is an ugly disease. It evolves and takes many paths, none of which are pretty. Looking back, I can honestly say that he was one of the strongest people that I have ever known and in so many ways he was also my biggest cheerleader – despite his daily challenges.
For years I exhausted my vacation time visiting my grandparents, but in 2009 I had planned a vacation to Mexico with a close friend of mine. Before leaving I had this strange feeling that something bad would happen while I was out of the country, so I reached out to him and poured my heart out. It was an awkward conversation because I was saying goodbye in a sense, but I was also not willing to accept that it was even possible that he would ever be gone….
He passed away while I was on that trip and it rocked my world. For the first time ever, I felt alone. My best friend and biggest cheerleader, confidant and advisor was gone and it was nearly a year before I was able to accept it. There was never a service or funeral and that was okay. Though my grandfather was an emotional man and never held back the tears when talking about his love for his family, he would have preferred a house full of family laughing, while eating and drinking to a gathering of folks shedding tears any day.
My grandmother has progressive Alzheimer’s and it too is an ugly disease, though I can remember some very sweet and humorous experiences early on in her diagnosis…
While I was there visiting sometime around 2010 her daughter (my aunt) and I went to the store for groceries. On a whim we picked up a curious drink called Clamato… a combination of beer, tomato juice and clam juice. It sounds terrible, but it was actually very good. We purchased two cans and after pouring samples from one can for all three of us, we stood in the kitchen taste-testing it. We talked about it like it was wine, noting what we liked and disliked. About 10 minutes later my grandmother grabbed the second can from the refrigerator and asked, very innocently – but seriously – “have either one of you ever tried this? Do you know if it'’s good?” My aunt and I just chuckled. When the episodes are seemingly small like this it feels good to laugh but unfortunately it has become less funny as the disease has progressed.
My grandmother has always been a very prideful person and she became very good at covering up the fact that she knew she was becoming increasingly forgetful. As a result, sadly, she began saying less and less – until the disease became more advanced.
Being the ultra-conservative person that she always was she often emulated the Queen of England in both appearance and style but as the Alzheimer’s progressed, her lipstick got brighter and her inhibitions lessened… sometimes even insisting that her boyfriend was planning to meet her outside and may not know where to find her.
After my grandfather died I went back many times to visit my Grandmother in Montrose, Colorado. She tried to stay in her own home for a short period, but it was clear to the entire family that she needed more assistance. This was my first glimpse into finding quality care for a loved one. I couldn’t be as involved as I wanted to while living so far away, but I became a sounding board for my aunt while she weighed all the important factors. I learned that it is a very complex and difficult process, and I decided that no senior or their family should ever have to make this decision on their own without people who genuinely care and have their best interests at heart. There is so much to consider when screening facilities and it truly takes experience, experience that we didn’t have at the time, but we stumbled our way through it and found her a home we thought was the right fit. I learned during this time of the extreme need to be able to properly assess all options in person before making any recommendations.
She has since moved out of assisted living and into the home of my aunt and uncle. It’s a daily challenge for everyone, but after her former community based care was purchased by a large corporation the quality of care decreased and family stepped in. Though my uncle provides the bulk of the care in his retirement, my aunt still helps with bathing, as well as evening and weekend care. They are an incredible team that my grandmother recognizes only as caregivers a majority of the time.
I’ve often referred to my grandparents as being the center of my universe… but that was only until I had my own children. Both of my kids are named after my Grandparents, Liam Gordon and Margaret Elizabeth, and someday I hope they feel a connection with their great-grandparents as a result!
When my son Liam was just a baby I took him to meet his great grandmother. Liam and I visited her a few times before his sister was born. It filled my heart to visit her again in August of this year (2017) with my daughter, her namesake, Margaret for the sole purpose of introducing them. My daughter is just two years old now, but they had a great time trying to share socks, putting toddler-like puzzles together and eating popcorn from the same bowl.
I hope to return again soon with both of my kids and continue to educate them firsthand about the importance of supporting our aging population, especially those closest to us – our family!
Team Senior lends me the opportunity to touch the lives of vulnerable, aging adults every day. It’s something that I take very seriously and do with a great deal of pride and humility. My grandfather would be proud.
It is my pleasure to be of service to our community. Even though the seniors we help may not be my grandparents, they are someone’s grandparents, and grandparents hold a very special place in my heart!
Love your grandparents if you have them. They won’t be here forever.
~ Jamie Callahan