Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Old Polish Chick

There is a certain magic in the stories of older generations, particularly in grandparents. I am blessed to have my 91 year old grandmother, aka Mimi, in my life. She is a self-proclaimed "Old Polish Chick", and while she IS 91, she claims to be 90. And what's the point of arguing? She's paid her dues. If she wants to be 90 for another year, so be it.  She had three children (two that remain), four grandchildren (including me), and four great-grandchildren that she adores. The whole family supports her with their love and care.

She is my only living grandparent, and it's no small deal to still be able to make memories with her. I was blessed to also know my grandfather and my other grandmother. I have their stories saved in my heart. When Mimi was moved into an assisted living community a few years ago, greatly for her safety, I made it a point to call her, if not every day, at least a few times a week. I'm not able to drive, but I can talk a long distance. It's always good to hear her voice.

I can't recall when it happened, but during our more recent weekly conversations, she speaks to me differently. Now, she almost immediately talks about "how amazing it is that, in all the world, of all the people, that we would have met and been through everything together. That we had somehow found each other and become friends."

The first time that happened, the years between us disappeared and suddenly I became a girlfriend. I don't know if I'm also still her granddaughter, or if the one new role replaced the last one. It is really of no consequence, as I'm blessed regardless to be in her life.

Despite the fifty years between us, I can relate to her in certain areas. I'd much rather NOT relate to her in this way, but the truth is that she and I have bodies that are tired, just for two different reasons. My body is tired from 16 years of illness. Hers is tired from 91 years of life. The whole family is grateful that she has been spared great physical pain in her life. 

Unfortunately, she was hit with a heart-wrenching loss when my uncle died sixteen years ago. The night he died, she slept at our house in my parents' bedroom, and I remember checking on her every hour, thinking quite surely that she was going to die of a broken heart. I used to call her every year on the anniversary of his passing to tell her I was thinking of her. I remember thanking God the year I called her on that day, and she seemed not to remember what made it special.

The wear and tear of age on our minds and the dementia it can bring is often heartbreaking for both the families and the patient. But they can be a blessing one in a million times. I do not know if she has completely forgotten that horrific event, but I know she misses him. That kind of pain never leaves .  We both have lost children, each tragically for different reasons.  In truth, I don't think losing a child can be anything less than tragic.

Most days she is chipper. She talks about our friendship along with all I wrote above. I ask her what she's doing, and usually she'll tell me she has her feet up and that she's eating potato chips. She laughs at herself. I love her laugh. It comes from her belly and projects like a unique melody. I wish I could capture it in a bottle so that I'll always have it. I always tell her, "I just wanted to call to tell you I love you, that I'm proud to be your granddaughter, and that I'm sending you an air hug."

She always says, "I return all those things to you."

Last week, though, I caught a beautiful clip of Mimi Philosophy. I had her repeat it so I got it all down. I can't remember exactly why were talking about my health, but I was telling her how frustrating it is to have a spirit that wants to go out and live, but a body that needs to rest.

She said, "Listen to what your body is saying. Do whatever the message is telling you to do. There are so many people who feel they have to be busy all the time, and it's just not true. Do what feels right and the result is what was meant to be. And if you stick with it, it can actually be like a prayer. Live your life by it."

Her words made a lot of sense to me, and they gave me peace. Our unique relationship is a great blessing to me. I hope our Old Polish Chick is laughing for many years to come!