“Deal” in the title of this post can be read a few ways.  What I mean here is how to deal with personal emotions regarding your loved one.

My grandfather had his first major heart attack at 40.  Since then he has had so many he could be in a record book.  One weekend at the beginning of this year he had six sizable heart attacks.  I repeat, six distinct heart attacks in ONE weekend.

He is the definition of a trooper, and the best part is that he makes it through it all with a smile on his face.  Unlike most sickly patients, he decided a long time ago that being sick was nothing to pout about.  So he smiles, laughs, jokes, and sings regardless of how he feels.  And trust me, the singing is the best part…although it’s all pretty wonderful considering the copious health issues he has.

Last weekend, my grandfather was found cold, pale, and barely breathing.  Somehow he recovered after being taken to the hospital and is currently home enjoying the Sunday Night Football game.  Unfortunately, he has been in the hospital so frequently lately that the doctors have informed us that it may be time to consider hospice.  Nothing has been decided yet by him or the family, but a few things are certain: his heart is incredibly weak and his hospital visits are only going to increase.

So how do you deal with it?  When one of your beloved grandparents is rapidly aging before your eyes, how do you cope?

There are a number of things I have done, all of which I unknowingly committed myself to years ago.

  1. When he speaks – regardless of topic – I listen intently.  My grandfather loves to talk, tell stories, and sing.  He’s elderly but he isn’t stupid or senile, so he knows when you are passively listening to him.  I listen and ask questions (he loves questions) and sometimes I ask him to repeat his favorite stories because he really loves telling them.  Every talk, from American Bush People to Dodger baseball to his cold feet, is important to me.
  2. I refuse to talk to him about his medication and how he is supposed to take it.  This is the only thing my grandfather and I do NOT discuss because we will undoubtedly fight.  He hears what he wants to when the doctor speaks while I and my parents make mental notes of the actual facts regarding how his medication should be taken.  If the conversation is heading in the direction of an argument about any topic, I remove myself from the conversation because I have no desire to get frustrated or angry with my grandfather.
  3. I try to visit him whenever possible.  Things happen and my personal life gets in the way sometimes, but overall I do what I can to make visits happen.  Naturally, I could do better but even when I miss a visit or two, I still see him quite a bit.
  4. I try to do things for him that he will appreciate.  For instance, years ago before he became as ill as he is today he told me about his favorite dessert made by his mother when his family was incredibly poor – vinegar cobbler.  I know it sounds disgusting but in fact it is tasty!  Anyway, two years ago I decided to surprise him with a vinegar cobbler after a family dinner.  He was so thrilled he still tells people about it every once in a while.  I’ve made it for him a number of times but he still tells people about the fact that I remembered him telling me about his favorite childhood dessert and found a recipe online to make for him.  My grandpa tells his wife, both of his daughters, his daughter-in-law, and all of his granddaughters that they are his Sugarplum #1.  About nine years ago I surprised him and the rest of the women in my family with Sugarplum #1 shirts for Christmas.  To this day he still gets a kick out of telling people about the shirts I made.
  5. My grandpa loves westerns, Sudoku puzzles, regular puzzles, and a game calls Jokers Wild.  Whenever possible, we watch westerns (or black and white movies) together and do puzzles.  As of late the regular puzzles have been too difficult and sitting at the table to play cards takes too much effort.  However, the point here is that when I see him, we do what he wants to do and what makes him happy.

If you haven’t already noticed, my grandpa (all of my grandparents in fact) mean a lot to me.  If they are happy, I am happy.  If they want to play games or watch movies, I want to play games or watch movies.  If they are at the hospital, I am at the hospital.  If they need help getting something done, I try my best to be available to help.

This post is centered on my paternal grandfather who is especially ill right now.  But seriously, all of my grandparents mean the world to me.  The reason I wrote this post tonight is because he called me to ask why I didn’t visit him today and to see what I was up to.  He is a kindhearted, loving man just like the rest of my family and I wish I had made the time to visit him today.  I wish I made more time to visit all of my grandparents.  My pre- New Year’s resolution is to see all of my grandparents more, because there’s no reason not to.

So, how do you deal or cope with an aging loved one?  You spend time with them and appreciate every single moment you get to share with them.  Because one day they won’t be around to chat, laugh, joke, or sing and you’ll regret missing out on those special moments.  Because let’s be honest – seeing them just for the holidays really isn’t enough.

I love my entire family.  They are my everything.

Enjoy your loved ones and holidays, WriterlyBite patrons!

Until next time…