Love, Butterflies, and Ginger Ale.
There are certain things in life you don’t appreciate fully when you’re young. Like taking naps, or having a spring break. Or your relationship with your grandparents.
I was very close to my Gramma as a little kid–– she babysat us often, and I remember doing puzzles with her, or taking the bus to the mall (she never, ever drove), or watching soaps in her living room. I remember playing rummy with cards that had baby zoo animals on them, and that she always had snacks we liked at her apartment. I remember that she had a popcorn ceiling–– something I didn’t have a name for until many years later, but that I always just associated with Gramma’s house.
She liked butterflies, and anything made of pewter, and reading, and she really loved Taco Bell, which in retrospect is hilarious for its incongruity. And she was sick, pretty much always. Not in the alarming way most people’s grandparents are sick, where it signifies that death is coming–– the chronic kind, where most of my childhood was spent in the back of my mom’s van, chatting with her while we drove her to doctor’s appointments.
I was young when she developed dementia, and while she technically lived well into my college years, all of my viscerally happy memories of her are squeezed into my childhood. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 17, long after her mind was already fairly out of sorts. And now, at 24, when a flare has taken me into the territory of truly, chronically sick person, I find myself missing the relationship we could have had now that I am an adult.
When you’re sick, you seek out people who might best understand. It’s not anyone’s fault if they can’t understand–– in fact, it’s great news for your loved ones if they can’t fully understand. It means they’re healthy, which is all I want for the people in my life. But sometimes, when symptoms are bad and you need a commiserating ear, another chronically ill person is the best possible option. Especially when that person is family.
I know if my Gramma were around, we could sit around and watch TV, and I wouldn’t feel bad at all bitching to her about how my steroid taper is making my hips hurt so bad that I can’t sleep. She would probably tell me about her own joint pain, and messed up sleep schedule, and how getting from point A to point B leaves her winded. We would probably make a joke of it and drink some ginger ale and then she’d force me to take home a stuffed animal she had in her apartment.
But even though she’s not around, I feel like I can learn about living with sickness from her even in retrospect. While she definitely didn’t live life mistake-free, she did a lot of things I can take away for myself. She threw her energy into loving her grandkids. She made us feel special when I’m sure she wasn’t feeling that way herself. She read a lot, and tried to keep her mind up even when it was fighting against her–– the nurses in her assisted living facility had to repeatedly clean out her room because she was hoarding books, a fact about her last years that I love a lot.
So on days like today–– her birthday–– I will get my own struggles together and take away the things she would have wanted me to. And I will also drink a ginger ale in her honor.