Thursday, February 28, 2008

Visiting Grandpop


Last week I visited my Grandpop in Georgia - this 92 year old gentleman with the serious expression but smiles in him. Grandpop lives in a house at the edge of a marsh on 5 mile strip of land, connected to state +country by a causeway (guarded by gatekeepers) and called Sea Island.

Grandpop and Grandma (at his side for more than 65 of his 92 years) were the steady center around which our expanding, contracting and occasionally splintering family moved. But despite Grandpop and my shared 36 years, we'd never had the one-on-one time we did this trip.

Conversationally, we criss-crossed the familiar ground of sacred family stories (thesecond Bombay Christmas when Santa came on the camel) and re-sketched the family's characters. We talked of the present: Hillary, the elections (Grandpop, an independent centrist I suppose, will back McCain - a "Navy man"), his upcoming trip to Portugal, where to dine Monday and what kind of sandwich we'd get at Subway on the way home from the hospital (and had I noted where it was when I drove in?)

Mornings I visited the hospital with The NY Times, Brunswick Paper and mail, then left him to nap around lunch and returned by 6:30 for bedside cocktails and the news. Grandpop had sherry in a sippy cup with straw that Susanna smuggled in, I had red wine and we snacked from a tin of cocktail nuts that sat on the tray table between us. Drinks with Grandpop – I have never, yet, felt more grown up. It was heady and it was profound.

And the reason I'm only now starting to write about the visit is I haven't managed to define that "profound". Amidst my mid-life seeking stage (hearkening back to adolescent existential phase but with more empirical evidence, and in english) I'd hoped Grandpop had the meaning of it all wrapped and ready for me to take home. If I could hear it from this man I respect, have known my life, whose values are mine (but finer) - that would be something.

But we didn't get there, though I did learn a little more about Quakers, what he thinks of hospital-sent chaplains and his favorite city. When I picked up Grandpop Saturday, stopped for our Subway mixed cheese and ham sandwich and brought him home, he was a fragile thing I helped from the car. It was me - inadequate to this, not equipped for this level of responsibility, the minding of our family's don.

Grandpop napped most of the first day. He moved from the couch to the deck and fell asleep by the pool with his hands resting across his chest and his head fallen forward. I worried he'd sunburn and rustled about with my shells to wake him. I made plates of lunch for us - the sandwich split, chips and arnold palmers - then he napped some more.


And we made little patterns around one another as he gained strength, returned to his desk to sort papers, received guests and check-in with friends. Every morning I woke early and worried for as long as I didn't see him and his door remained closed. He resumed preparing his morning hot chocolate and his exercises. I went to the beach to run and collect sand dollars and Grandpop napped.

So there it is. Not a big tale and no moral. I flew out Tuesday, leaving Grandpop with Aunt Snooze and John. He now has a woman coming in a few hours a few days a week to help with errands and housework. No one could sell him on around-the-clock - to abdicate his privacy. He's toured the local nursing home but prefers (adamantly) to stay in his home and keep to his independence and patterns. I see that I would be the same, I would want to hold onto life as I lived it, the spaces familiar and still visited by memories and ghosts. I wouldn't seek group outings or meal plans.


On his wrist Grandpop wears an alert bracelet with a button that, I guess, contacts a medical team. Worrying he'd fall again (which had landed him in the hospital), one of us (delicately) asked the obvious :

"What if you fall and can't hit the button and you're alone, no one to hear?"

"Well," said Grandpop, "then that's that isn't it?"

He had a twinkle and the start of a smile when he said it. And he made us laugh.

C – sending love to my grandfather, and toasting his sippy cup

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