A family like mine...

"He that raises a large family does, indeed, while he lives to observe them, stand a broader mark for sorrow; but then he stands a broader mark for pleasure too."
 --Benjamin Franklin

Kiddos and Mamaw and Papaw Halloween 2013
Kiddos and Grandmother February 2013

I have always been close to my grandparents; close both in geographical proximity and relationship-wise. I am very fortunate in that I have all but one grandparent still living, having only lost my maternal grandfather in May of 1999. My maternal grandmother, Grandmomma, remarried a few years ago and by doing so, brought a precious, Godly man into our family. My step-grandfather could never take the place of my Granddaddy but he is a wonderful man and I truly believe that he has added years of happiness to my grandmother's life. He has loved her perfectly for this season of her life; taking care of her both physically and emotionally. About four years ago, my Grandmomma's health began to fail. I have watched her physically deteriorate; losing large amounts of weight, requiring knee replacement surgery and suffering from high fevers and continuous pain. She never complains but her discomfort is always visible in her eyes. A couple of weeks ago, she began bleeding internally and has been hospitalized off and on. 

Then, last week my paternal grandmother, my Mamaw, suffered a serious stroke: a stroke that robbed her of many basic skills, leaving her mind intact but stripping her of the ability to communicate and walk. Luckily, my Papaw found her and medical personnel responded quickly. Strokes are strange and vicious things and having a stroke has always been one of my Mamaw's greatest fears. At eighty years old, she still lived a very full life: she shopped at Bealls and Lee's Hallmark, worked in her flowerbeds and yard, painted her bathroom cabinets, quilted a special quilt for each newly married couple in our family, made homemade strawberry jam and jelly (my Daddy was the only one special enough to get the jelly), loved donuts and McDonalds milkshakes, made lemon-ice box pies especially for my brother-in-law at Christmas and kept my Papaw on his toes. Papaw is lonely in their home and lost without his companion of almost 63 years. We are hopeful that she will recover. She is getting great medical and rehabilitation care. Our family knows that the road will be long but we also know that she is strong and that if anyone can come back, she can. 

Trust me, I have perspective. I know how lucky I am to still have my grandparents. I know how blessed my family is that they are not only alive, but up until about two weeks ago, they all were living independently: grocery shopping for themselves, driving, gardening, and cooking. We have been very, very fortunate and I am filled with enormous gratitude when I consider their lives, their legacies and the incredible impression each of them have left on my family and our community. I know that this new season is simply part of life and that other families deal with so much more, for so much longer.

But I must admit, the last couple of weeks have been difficult and have made me think about life and death. When I consider my grandparents and look back at their lives, I can't help but wonder what they must think about life today. The cost of bread. The cost of a gallon of milk. The cost of gasoline. The extravagant homes we build. The high priced clothes we wear. The general hustle and bustle. I can't help but consider what thoughts run through their minds when I stop in for a quick visit (because I am always so busy), only to be continuously distracted by my iPhone. I can't help but wonder what they think about my 'kinder, gentler' parenting tactics. I wonder if they shake their heads after I leave and question my crammed-packed, head-spinning, busy, crazy lifestyle. 

If I am honest with myself, which is sometimes really hard for me to do, I think my grandparents are probably appalled. I know they love me and I know they are proud of me, but I think I leave them with their hearts breaking over my break-neck pace of life. I think that if they were given the chance, each of them would lovingly take me by the shoulders, look directly into my eyes, and tell me to slow down. I think they would tell me to turn off the television and read to my children more. I think they would tell me to throw my iPhone in the garbage--that no conversation is that important. In fact, I think they would tell me that a conversation via text message really isn't a conversation at all. I think they would tell me to cook more and shop less. I think they would tell me to take long walks and drive much slower. I think they would tell me to hug my husband more often and stop worrying about how much money we make. I think they would tell me to stop planning my days and start enjoying them. I think they would tell me to pray more and talk less.    

I know what they would say to me because I know them. I spent time with them as a child, ignored them as a teenager and got to know them, really know them, as an adult. They are not only my grandparents, I truly consider each one of them a very special friend. My life is filled with memories that include each one of them. My grandparents are the cornerstones of my families: the reasons we gather on the holidays, the reasons we cram into tight spaces and make family pictures, the reasons we call, text, tolerate, forgive, and love one another. A family like mine doesn't just happen. A family like mine doesn't just spring into existence. A family like mine is created intentionally and sustained by love. It is cultivated and reconciled and protected and loved some more. A family like mine is passionate, loud, emotional, and far from a picture of perfection. My grandparents aren't saints and if given the opportunity they would all probably go back and change some of the decisions they made, words they said, thoughts they had, and actions they took. If given the opportunity, we all would. But my grandparents made it work, they made it last and in doing so, they established a family that will endure no matter what we face. 

Yes, things for my family have definitely changed over the last two weeks. But my bunch is strong and resilient and we will face these new, uncharted waters together. We will continue to love them in a passionate kind of way--the passionate kind of way they have loved each of us. We will continue to pray for them--pray for them just as they have prayed for each of us. We will continue to move forward with them; helping them, steadying them, feeding them, carrying them if we must. Because that's just what my family does.

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