My grandfather has always been one of my biggest supporters and has always made me feel like I am capable of greatness. In the last six years, his health has spiraled downward and his communication skills have declined. At present, his English language skills are suffering and he transitions into Spanish (his native tongue) without noticing. Somehow, despite his decreased ability to communicate, he has maintained an interest in my life and asks for details. He isn’t able to remember the major details (where I’ve been employed and whether or not I completed college) but without fail, he always tells me that I’m doing a great job and that he loves me. Yesterday, as I was saying goodbye to my family, he had a moment of lucidity and told me he was proud of me. Nowadays, he can’t articulate his thoughts very well and as a result, I was taken aback by this comment.
I haven’t been the best granddaughter in recent years. After his stroke, I attempted to take part in the rehabilitation process by playing music to jog his memory and making quick and easy visual references to help him remember everyday household items. The recovery process is taxing, though, especially when you start it knowing full well he will never fully recover. When his progress plateaued, my family and I knew his memory and functioning were as good as they were going to get. I began to disconnect emotionally at that point. Without the hope of improvement, I couldn’t handle seeing him in the state he was in, so much so that I avoided seeing him altogether.
His waning healthy beyond the stroke has left him with less and less. Alzheimer’s. Dementia. My parents use these terms interchangeably. It doesn’t change the fact that who he was is pretty much gone. But yesterday’s exchange with him provided me a glimpse of who he used to be.
When I was an awkward teenager, he said I was great on a daily basis, and counteracted messages I received from my father every time he said I could do anything I wanted to do. Being a teenager with terrible self-esteem, I never believed him when he told me I was great, but I did appreciate his attempts to build my confidence at a time when I needed it the most. More than that, he was the first person to show me what unconditional love is by his words and actions. Even when I broke his trust, he saw it in me to trust me again. This I will never forget.
His attempts to build me up didn’t stop when I graduated high school. As a less-awkward college student, he constantly applauded me for my choosing my field of study. It was his influence that lead me to social work, admittedly. I remember hearing him tell stories about his days in the field and feeling endlessly impressed by him, excited by his work, and wanting the same for myself. His stroke occurred in the last year of my studies. In his recovery, he remembered some details about whatever job I had at the time, but often got confused.
Even now, present day, he makes it a point to say he loves me. It might be the only thing he’ll say to me all day, but he still says it.
Sometimes I think about what he would have been like had he not had the stroke. Maybe I would have been able to tell him about my days at work, exchange stories about clients with him, get some perspective and/or advice about how to handle a situation. Maybe he would have attended my college graduation ceremony had he not been in such bad health. I don’t know. I could go on with “maybe” and “what if” situations, but it does me no good.
Yesterday’s exchange with him is one of the better memories I’ll have of him from here on out. I can’t make up for my absence from his life the last few years. All I can do is make sure I continue to treat him with compassion and respect, and make him feel loved in return.
Who knows how long you have with the ones you love? Not me. That’s for sure.
My grandfather was my number one fan, my biggest supporter and source of encouragement, my source of inspiration for educational and career goals. That’s how I would like to remember him.