This poignant essay was written by Caregiving Advice team member, Eliza Brown.
The wrinkles and veins that map my grandmother’s hands are the rings of a mighty oak tree. I’d run my dimpled fingers alongside them as a child and she’d laugh, saying in her sweet southern twang, “My hands have always been skinny. Bony and veiny. Your hands are smooth and soft like a lady’s should be.” Now I run my hand along hers as we drink our morning coffee, and she asks me if it’s bedtime, looking intently at me as to figure out just who I am. “Not bedtime yet. It’s still morning,” I assure her, as I give her hand another squeeze.
It is easy to take for granted — and even to overlook — the lifetime I’ve been blessed to share with my grandmother. My parents’ relationships with their grandparents seem, from my perspective, to have been loving in a respectfully distant, polite manner: a stereotypical relationship between generations. This is vastly different — not better and not worse, simply different — from my relationship with my 96-year-old grandmother, whom I call AJ.
At times I long to have a grandmother/granddaughter relationship again with AJ. I wish I could drive over to her house these days and that she’d put the tea on and slice up an orange, and I could sit at her table and share a new secret with her amidst the fragrant steam and citrus spritzes, and watch the fine lines on her face change as she listens to me speak. I long to dry dishes as she washes, and laugh when she leaves suds on the bottoms of plates. That is how I imagine my stereotypical grandmother/granddaughter relationship would look.
But then I look at what I have now that my parents never had the privilege of knowing. There’s a certain beauty that accompanies choosing what outfit AJ will wear, then tugging the right shirt over her head, paired with a sweater that I know she will like because it sparkles; bringing a few pieces of jewelry over to her lap for her to choose which looks best with what she is wearing; holding up her perfume bottle close to her face so she can see it, and watching her squeezing her eyes shut as I spray it on her.
These are the intimate, in-between, mortar moments of her day that I would never get to witness if I only visited for a cup of tea. These are the moments that make her so spectacular — her sassiness when the clothes I pick don’t match or need to be ironed (something I’ve never been very good at paying attention to), her giggle when I tickle her toes before putting her socks on, the way she inspects each brooch, each necklace, each gem-studded bracelet and ever-so-slowly adorns herself with them.
I watch with glittering eyes as AJ sips her coffee. I rub my thumb along her fragile, mighty hands, give the tip of her nose a kiss for every time I lost my patience with her so far this morning, and thank God for the mortar moments that I would never get the chance to witness if my role in AJ’s life were any different.