Their first ever hospital visit and the two little boys, ages five and eight, were ushered into Boopah’s room to view him lying in bed: barely able to walk or speak after suffering a series of strokes.
As I studied their faces, trying to discern just what might be going on in their heads, my mind went to bleak places. Surely they could not apprehend this was the same grandfather who had recently crossed the country on his bicycle. Most definitely this would be a giant turning point in their relationship with Boopah. “Now,” they must be thinking, “A disabled old man has replaced my Boopah. And, “It is scary to see him like this.”
This was much like my own paranoia when the three older grandchildren had come to be with me two years earlier, after back surgery rendered me unable to move my left foot. I was thus required to sport a bulky brace around that leg and had to use a walker in order to ambulate.
Before they arrived, I’d made sure my makeup was on, my hair coiffed perfectly with a multi-colored ribbon hanging from the top to show them my body had changed, but my outrageous sense of humor was still strongly intact.
I don’t know if it was the ribbon, or the fact that the inner me had not been altered by the physical alteration but I was, indeed, still Grams and was accepted as such.
And now my concern went to my husband, Joe, and his future relationship with the kids.
What is it about me that stubbornly holds on to unnecessary angst? Why could I not have retained the lesson I learned when I had been laid up? The kids knew who I was. They didn’t flinch. Of course, they cared and hoped I’d heal, but as far as they were concerned, I had not changed. Grams was, well, Grams.
So, too, was Joe going to remain Boopah, for, while his body was temporarily out of service, his quick mind, easy laugh and abundant love for his family would never change.
Once home, we had installed a system of ramps which allowed Joe’s wheelchair to be navigated from level to level. But before he was able to sit in that wheelchair, he’d needed a giant forklift-type of equipment to move him from his bed to the wheelchair. And the help of two able-bodied adults.
The kids loved to help lift Boopah from his bed and place him in the chair. And they most certainly got a great kick out of having themselves moved by that lift into chair when it was unoccupied. Once in the wheelchair, they equated the adventure to something akin to a Disney ride.
For his part, Joe enjoyed having the kids push him around the house and participate in his physical improvement. There were times, however, the house appeared to be too quiet to have the kids visiting. Where was the tumult that was part of enjoying grandchildren?
That’s when we knew to listen for suppressed giggles and find them hiding under the ramps.
Fast-forward a year and Boopah is now fully back; having regained his physical abilities. The forklift is no longer needed, nor the wheelchair or the ramps. There is, however, a large inflated cushion on his seat at the kitchen table. And, of course, the kids get a great kick out of sitting upon it.
Recently Joe was in the kitchen while I was complaining about having to take out the garbage and recycling because he was not doing his part of the chores. His immediate response was, “I had a stroke, you know” followed by a huge, knowing smile. And then he grabbed the garbage bag from me and hauled it out into the garage.
The thing is, instead of having worried about the children not accepting Grams or Boopah after our illnesses, I should have been thinking about all the ways in which they could participate in our recoveries.
Last week I came to fully understand that relationships as strong as a grandparent and grandchild do not change merely because one of us is stricken with an illness. We were on vacation together, Joe had taken his afternoon nap the day before, went to bed early that same evening and now, the next morning was still not up to join us for breakfast. One of the boys remarked that he sleeps a lot. Before I could respond and explain his need for much rest, the other grandson stated, with a knowing grin, “Well, Boopah’s had a stroke, you know.”