Alanna Woody is part of the Caregiving Advice team. Here, she shares what her grandparents taught her about love.
Growing up, there were two names that always brought our family together: Nanny and Pappy. At any family gathering, they were always the center that held everyone together. My grandparents are two tiny people with larger-than-life souls. My grandma is the reasonable, selfless one. My grandpa is the quirky, comedic one. And together, they make an unforgettable, adorable duo.
When I was little, I always knew they were never far away. Often, we would go on mall trips together, where I was faithfully given the toy of my choice and a sweet treat to take home. Or I remember long weekends at their little home, waking up to the smell of eggs and toast in the morning. Their presence gives me a warm sense of comfort and unconditional love.
It’s funny, though, how life is a slow-fade. Aging happens over time; wrinkles do not arise overnight, and many illnesses can take years to develop.
In middle school, my grandma was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. At the time, I knew this was serious, but because my grandma’s particular type of Parkinson’s was slowed by medicine and therapy, I did not see the deep effects until later in life.
But the illness still crept in. Throughout the years my grandma would begin to bob and shake, first her hands, then her legs, then her head. And my family and I would try to ease her pain as much as possible, doing things to distract and delight her — like taking her out to eat, or painting her nails. Above all, we vowed to remain present during the entire process.
And ultimately, various events led us to realize my grandparents could no longer care for each other; they needed extra assistance. Together, my parents and my mother’s siblings made the decision to place my grandparents in an assisted living facility. Here, my grandparents could experience community, events, and the extra care that they needed.
Now, we as a family are put at ease knowing that my grandparents have trained staff caring for them continually. It is hard, however, to see someone so strong be overcome by such illness.
Still, I have learned that even when life is unkind, we are the ones to choose kindness despite the pain we endure. Love is not glamorous. Love is not shiny and golden and new. Love is my grandma cleaning up my puke in the back of her car when I was six. And love is me helping my grandma go to the bathroom when she cannot do it on her own.
Life is a cycle of give and take. My grandparents have sacrificed so much for our family, as they have taught us true love endures. Now, it is our turn to take their lessons of sacrifice and love, and apply it to our care for them.
And so, choosing to love reminds us of our inherent humanness. We are not our illnesses or our misgivings or our pain. We are merely affected by these things. Extra assistance does not mean less humanness. Really, it reveals our humanity even more. We are all deeply in need of one another, and in need of a selfless sort of love.