Both of my maternal grandparents are in their late 90s. My grandmother, in fact, will be celebrating her 100th birthday in two weeks. Between the two of them, they have over 198 years on this earth.
They’ve been married for 75 years. Yes. You read that right: 75 YEARS. They were blessed with four daughters, losing one tragically at birth, and they have lived to see nine grandchildren and thirteen great-grandchildren grow.
The Depression, Pearl Harbor, World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, the Space Race, JFK’s assassination, the Gulf War, 9/11… Most of these things we’ve come to know through reading or half-listened to history lessons. My grandparents? They lived them. They heard live news reports about them. They grieved and/or celebrated them with their friends–dialogued about what the world was coming to. They can tell you the story of where they were when…
Health has been an up-hill battle for them both, and they are a living example of what the progression of modern medicine and the undying love and support of a devoted family can do. Their journey spans from barely surviving appendicitis and peritonitis at a very young age (without much medical help) to dealing with and overcoming (often miraculously) colon cancer, breast cancer, strokes, skin cancers, heart failure, pericardial effusion, pneumonia, broken hips, knee replacements, gall bladder removal, countless surgeries…
They’ve embraced the evolution of technology in a way I can only hope to emulate as I age myself. From radio to record players to cd players–from nothing to television to VCRs to DVDs–from telegraphs to telephones to rotary phones to hard wire phones to cordless to cell… While I don’t think I’d say they’ve become a master of all technology, by any means, they have never been scared to try it. They’ve plowed forward, buying every new device, riding the wave of change. Yes, they’ve been scammed. Yes, they’ve locked their computer up by opening the same window 100 times because each time it just didn’t look right (no kidding, much to the “enjoyment” of my dad or my uncle who try to troubleshoot). But guys, my grandpa has a Facebook page. It’s the most adorable thing because, every time he wrote a post (not so much anymore), he would always sign “–Foster” at the end, like a traditional letter. My grandmother is a game master. She’s found extreme entertainment in trying to beat the computer.
I laugh at myself now to admit this, but I sometimes find myself thinking that I’m getting old. My own digestive issues, failing vision, gray hairs, stiffness from exercising and worrying about the day job often land me in a big pile of nostalgia, remembering the younger days when stress was less and my body was made of rubber. But even when I was younger, I remember my grandmother saying, “Jenny, enjoy growing older. It’s a privilege denied to many.”
Both Grandma and Grandpa have shared that sentiment with me at many times in my life. Sometimes it would come out in the more comical response to the age-old question about their age. “You’re 80? 90? 98? How does that feel?” someone asks. “Beat’s the alternative!” they answer. Without hesitation. Almost every time.
Watching them grow frailer these days is hard. Watching my grandparents watch how their continued health struggles weigh on my mom is harder. I have no words to describe the respect I have for my grandparents and my mother beside them, aiming to help them live their remaining years with dignity. My grandmother still has her undeniable spark for life and a good argument. My grandfather still does everything he can to warm you with his eyes, welcoming you there with love and a silent strength.
That spark and strength regularly are blurred with the brutal reality of this late stage of life. But as I’ve explored this blog, I’ve still been hearing their words–whether they are physically or emotionally able to utter them now or not. Growing old is a privilege denied to many. I thank my grandparents for sharing this gem with the world their whole lives. I thank BOTH my parents for doing all they can to polish that gem (for us and for themselves) so that it shines–even in not always pretty situations.
Grandma and Grandpa, Mom, Dad–I promise to keep exploring the enjoy part of this aging thing. With all my bumbling–and all my love.