Last weekend my family packed into our little mini-van and drove eight hours to visit my grandma in Iowa and celebrate her 95th birthday. Let me tell you, it’s not easy scrunching eight of us (including my mom) along with all our bags and backpacks into our van, especially because I have three growing teens.
I heard plenty of “You’re taking up all the room” and “It’s hot back here” and “When is it my turn to pick the movie?” We always have our share of bickering, noise, and irritation. But with the help of DVD’s, ipods, and audio books, we arrived at the nursing home without killing each other.
My grandma has lived in the nursing home for at least the past five years. In fact, the last time our family was all together, we celebrated my grandma’s 90th birthday in the very same nursing home. I remember how she’d had her hair fixed special for the day, wore a pretty dress, and was so excited.
Along with her family, lots of people came from the community and from her church. The entire big dining room was filled with all those celebrating her life. She practically flitted on air through the crowd, smiling and laughing and loving the attention.
She’d touched many lives over the years through the ministries she lead, her volunteering, and the love she showed to so many.
Her 95th celebration was very different. This time only a few came instead of hoards. This time she was wheelchair bound instead of flitting. This time she slept instead of laughed. And this time she wore an old faded shirt and sweater instead of a pretty outfit.
In five years, my grandma had changed drastically. Her health and mental capacity had declined so that in some ways she was merely a shell of the person she’d been at the last party. While it was a joy to see her and share our love, her deteriorated condition also brought me to tears on several occasions during the afternoon.
It was difficult seeing her that way. I preferred to remember her as the vibrant, energetic woman who’d taken me and my brothers to Six Flags, or who took us swimming every summer in her condo pool, or who made my favorite ice cream cake dessert every time I came to visit, or who taught me how to play King on the Corner.
And yet, seeing my grandma also provided some important reminders of how frail life is. Of how quickly our health can change. And of how difficult those last years can be. It spurs me to try to make the most of my time, to be healthier, and to never take life for granted.
There’s one thing that will never change no matter how many times I see my grandma and how frail that she gets. I’ll always think about the legacy of faith she gave to her family, a genuine personal faith that was the most important thing in her life. She placed such a high value on her faith and lived it out every day of her life.
I saw her example and it impacted me. Not only that, but she also passed her faith on to my mom, who has now passed it on to me.
It’s because of my grandma that my faith is what it is today.
So thank you, Grandma, for staying strong and passing on a legacy of faith. Even though I’m slowly beginning to mourn the loss of your life, I’ll always rejoice in the great gift you gave me.
How about you? Have you had to deal with any loved ones getting older? What lessons have you learned as a result?