As we've all been thinking about the struggles we face with my grandpa who is sick, I've been thinking about the memories of my other grandpa, who had Parkinson's disease since long before I was born. Throughout my childhood, I knew him as a sick man. His body shook, hence his voice shook. He had trouble walking. As grandchildren, we all loved him, but we were unsure how to interact with him because he was hard to understand. As a result, we all too often avoided conversations with him. I'm sure that hurt his feelings as it does mine today when I think back on it. I try to remember that I was just a dumb little kid, and he probably understood that. Still, though, he probably wanted to get to know us as any grandpa would, but we did not make that easy for him.
When I was about 12 or 13, we had to move Grandpa into a nursing home. We would go visit whenever we where nearby, but I still remained shy around him. Maybe even more so because of the nerves that accompany being in a nursing home for most of us, young and old. I have several memories of sitting in the nursing home, listening to Dad and Grandma talking with Grandpa, trying to figure out what Grandpa was saying. Dad and Grandma were much better at that than I was.
The last time I visited the nursing home, when I was 15, was no different from this pattern. We were sitting at a table in the lobby area, talking and probably eating. At one point, Dad, Mom, and Grandma wanted to run back to Grandpa's room for something, leaving me alone with Grandpa. I had no idea what I would say to him, so we kind of just looked at each other and smiled. That was something we both could understand. Then he said the last thing I can remember him saying to me before he went to the hospital where he passed away.
His false teeth didn't fit quite right, making him even harder to understand. But I clearly heard him say this to me: "You're a pretty girl. Such a pretty girl." Then he smiled again.
At the time, I just shrugged, said thanks, and smiled back. At 15, no one could really convince me that he was telling the truth, but it was nice of him to say. After he got sick a little while later, I remembered that moment and realized it might be the last thing he ever directly said to me. My last personal, one-on-one interaction with him was a lovely compliment from the man I had spent too much of my childhood ignoring. I probably didn't deserve it, but I am so grateful that's what I got.
So now as I visit my other grandpa in the hospital, I wonder: what will be the last interaction I have with him? What will those last words be? Will I remember them as vividly as I do with my other grandpa? Will I still cry 16 years later when I think of it?