cats & the cradle

August 6, 2006

life lessons

My last day in New York, I headed out to Forest Hills, Queens to visit my grandfather.  I’d tried to see him before I moved to Austin mid-April, but he wasn’t up for visitors.  It used to be that he’d get excited, over the phone, from the idea of plans.  We’d go to Parkside restaurant, or at least say we would, and he’d look forward to it all week.  But when the day arrived for me to visit, he’d phone with "really not up for it."  A part of me was relieved I didn’t have to travel, that I could instead tend to my list of "have-to."  I feel badly saying that because I, of course, love him and would do anything for him.  But I felt relief instead of disappointment.  I imagine my grandchildren will one day feel this too.  They’ll prefer to spend time with their friends, or at the movies, than sitting with their grandmother in a living room, being offered a bowl of fruit. 

I didn’t feel that way this time.  I would have been disappointed if he’d turned us away.  I was in from Texas and knew we wouldn’t be back until mid-September for our wedding.  He lit up when he heard we were coming, my father said.  "He’s like a little boy, now.  He gets very excited about visitors, about dinner, about news."  Before he liked the idea but turned us away.  "He’s reverting," my father said.  And I understood.  When we age we become childlike again, in the care of others.  Learning to walk slowly.  Someone helping us to the bathroom. 

He looked frail and is now barely able to see.  Philip brought him a poster from my Borders reading: a huge photo of me with my name.  My grandfather pressed it up to his face and smiled when he made out KLEIN.  I couldn’t believe how much his sight had deteriorated since last seeing him.  He didn’t look good.  It made me want to cry.  "I’m so proud of you," he said.  And a tear slipped down my face. I went to hug him, putting my hand on his shoulder.  I felt his bones this time.  He did not look good.  It scared me, seeing how he couldn’t see me. 

I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose your sight.  Though I don’t think he’s afraid; he’s at peace, which is always a comfort.  He chose chemo.  He wants to do what he can to be here, but I think he’s tired.  He has stopped controlling things, handed over his finances, and he now lives in the small pleasure of visits, phone calls, and fresh black plums.  "Steph, you’ve got to take some with you."  Before I left for the airport, he asked seven times, wanting to be reassured that I had taken some of his fruit, in a plastic baggie.  "Jewish grandmother" was all I could think as my Jewish grandfather pushed me out the door with food. 

"When you get to my age, Steph, it’s always something."  "Something" now consists of chemo, diabetes, tumors, of two nurses, of Vernell (our family housekeeper who has been with us since before I was born).  He’s ninety years old.  He refused to celebrate his last birthday with us, fearing it was jinxing his life.  "I’m just so proud of you.  You didn’t pull strings.  You made your dreams come true on your own, and very few people can say that.  And now you’re getting married to a wonderful man in the Jewish religion.  That’s very important."  I put my hand on my lower abdomen.  "And you’re having babies," he added.  I wondered if he’d seen me just then.  Life amazes me.  I hope he’s able to come to our wedding.  I hope he’s around to meet his great-grandchildren.  I miss him already.  And I feel guilty about that too.  He’s not even gone.  Because while we’re young, as I am, we have a hard time letting go, of realizing really, what we cannot control.  We’re left to follow by example and let things slip, like a silken bow untied, loose to loss.

Get On It (Keep On It)

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44 Responses to “cats & the cradle”

  1. christine Says:

    aging sometimes seems cruel, with all that one has to concede to it. but the thing is, it all balances out because when we're old we can appreciate each day, each breath, each moment, in a way that we can't when young. young people are always yearning, striving, fretting, judging. old people know how to let it lie, which is a beautiful thing in itself. wisdom makes the whole process easier.

    Reply

  2. rb Says:

    My last living grandparent, my mother's mother, died while I was pregnant with my first child. At that moment I really understood the whole 'circle of life' thing. We named our daughter after her.

    Good luck with your pregnancy!

    Reply

  3. Kaia Says:

    Reading about your grandfather reminds me of my grandparents – all who have passed and i miss immensely. Especially my mom's mom. She and i had the most amazing relationship – she was this beautiful, chic, infinitely stylish woman with an open heart and neverending wisdom. When she passed – i asked my mom for all her scarves, she loved scarves – silk, patterned, floral – and i wanted them all. When they arrived some had her perfume still on them and i would hold them to my nose and breathe in as deeply as possible – hoping to have her with me again. It's been years now, but if i breathe deeply enough – on occasion – she's there right next to me. I don't do that often – i worry the smell will disapppear if i do.

    Despite the sadness, your story made me smile – thank you :)

    Reply

  4. laura Says:

    my own jewish grandfather, who used to tuck me in when i slept over on saturdays and who would drive me to sunday school in the mornings, died when i was 13. he was 63. how lucky you are to have had your grandfather in your life for this long. 90 – those are some strong family genes. men in my family don't reach 70. consider yourself incredibly lucky.

    Reply

  5. Melissa Says:

    Steph,
    Be proud you realized the gift you have in your grandfather and gave yourself the chance to wallow in it. Tell your babies about him each day and they will know him…life is a mystery. I don't even know you and I'm proud of you and for you…you have life within you…love every second…
    melissa

    Reply

  6. RzDrms Says:

    these lines slayed me: "Philip brought him a poster from my Borders reading: a huge photo of me with my name. My grandfather pressed it up to his face and smiled when he made out KLEIN." i can't stop crying.

    Reply

  7. marhi Says:

    In the circle of life the beginings and endings always make you think differently about your own life. I always wonder how much of me is because of my great grandmother and how much of my own little ones is a part of me.

    Reply

  8. gvjim Says:

    Stephanie — Write as much as you can about your time with him now, and in the past. You'll be amazed how much you will enjoy rereading it in 10 or 20 years.

    Reply

  9. Manic Mom Says:

    You always have a beautiful way of ending your posts.

    My grandmother is 94, and she's tired too, all her friends, her husband, two sons have gone before her. I can't imagine losing my sons. Even at such an age.

    I hope your grandfather is there at your wedding.

    BTW, loving Straight Up! And hating Gabe… is that okay?

    Reply

  10. Deliciously Tormented Says:

    The day before my grandmother died, we sat on the terrace on the hospital roof. My aunt was smoking. My Grandma sat there in her wheelchair, with a blanket draped over her lap. Lucid, talking, laughing. Discussing something from the city newspaper.

    The next time I saw her, she was flat on her back in her hospital bed. Shallow breathing, eyes closed.

    I got to say my goodbye, which wasn't really a goodbye. It was a see you later. She fought a hard battle. She was the only one I got to say a goodbye to. It was hard, but I knew she was happier where she was.

    Reply

  11. Lisa Says:

    that was so sweet, it made me cry. thanks for touching me today.

    As a long time reader you have made me feel proud of you too. Congrats on all your self-made success. A real inspiration.

    Lisa

    Reply

  12. Kirsten Says:

    Stephanie, I know exactly what you mean, having 2 circa 90 years old grandmothers…
    When I talked to my maternal granny the other day, about her forthcoming 90 years Birthday, and I asked how she was, she said 'ah, I wish life would be over soon' – it kinda scared me, but then, she said in a way that suggested she'd lived her life and was full. So I (kind of) understand her. And I appreciate how she feels. I think, and hope (selfishly?!) that she will live many more years – but, I think both you and Christine are right – when we get old, we also by and by get used to the fact it will be over soon.
    I think you both say it so well; and Stephanie – you are lucky to have your granddad – and I'm sure he feels very lucky he has you!

    Reply

  13. Michelle Says:

    the last two lines are really good. i like how you tied in the bow with the grandfather's gift-giving and the sense of loss. sharp.

    Reply

  14. RJ Says:

    It's hard to accept the decline, and sad to witness it.

    Saw your book blurbed in the Post this morning– talk about your great plugs! How awesome! You must be riding high! Congrats and props!

    Reply

  15. 3 teens' mom Says:

    My sweet grandma lived to be 2 weeks shy of 99. And visiting her every day was exactly how you wrote – a bitter sweet obligation that you love and don't love doing.

    She lived life to the fullest – she always had a smile on to the very last moments when she slipped into a coma, and then away from us, that Christmas Eve of 2004.

    I miss her every day – her wise old opinions – but she taught us not only how to live graciously, but how to die graciously as well. Thanks for the memories.

    Reply

  16. jill Says:

    This wasn't the first time that one of your posts brought me to tears – what a beautifully written account of how difficult it is to watch those close to us age. This post was particularly appropriate for what I'm dealing with in my own family now – thank you for putting it into such loving words.

    Reply

  17. Jody Says:

    Stephanie, here's something I wrote recently to one of my friends as we both experience our parents' aging:

    Visits become bittersweet even when we see our parents often because our thoughts (not theirs) turn to the way “things used to be” – when they were young and we were dependent on them (even though we fought for our independence every chance we got). Now “in their ripe old age” we fight to keep their independence for as long as we possibly can. We want and need for the end of their life to be just as meaningful as their life has always been to us. Ensuring that our parents’ final days are dignified, caring, loving and respectful of how they lived their life is the most precious gift we can give to them and the hardest task we have ever been faced with.

    My thoughts are with you.

    Reply

  18. natalie Says:

    stephanie – you've captured, in a post, how many of us have begun to feel for our aged grandparents or parents. it is a hard thing – watching someone self-destruct – at any age. and yet, even as we know it is inevitable, the aging process is difficult, unbearable, change.

    thank you for reminding us of the little things that matter and the ways we can and must reach out.

    Reply

  19. Trish Says:

    Stephanie,
    Your post was beautiful. It made me cry. I am a med/surg oncology nurse and this is my life on a daily basis. You are so lucky that you can embrace the gifts your grandfather is giving you at this time, and that you understand where he is physically and mentally. I see too many families who just aren't there for their parents/grandparents. Some are in denial, some don't care, but it is heartbreaking to see a patient at the end of their life without the support of their family. I'm happy for you and the time you spent with your grandfather, and I'm sure your visit will be something that he will hold on to in his heart forever.

    Reply

  20. michelle Says:

    my dad just turned 80 last week … and while he is in relatively good health, this post made me think of him and cry. i spent the past 10 days on vacation, at home with my mom and dad … enjoying their company but knowing in the back of my mind that these are precious times … and i am homesick, wishing that i was with them instead of sitting on my couch, alone and lonely. i hope that your grandfather will be able to dance with you at your wedding, stephanie … and know hiw great-grandbabies. off to get a tissue and call my dad. :)

    Reply

  21. Pauline Says:

    That was really sweet and wonderful. Very few people can say they have such a relationship with a grandparent.

    Reply

  22. Meryl Says:

    Its hard to see someone once so strong now weak and lifeless but you can find consolation in the fact that he`s lived his life, seen and done everything and is tired now of all of it.
    I hope he`ll be there for your wedding and when your babies are born.

    Reply

  23. Rochelle Says:

    This one made me cry. I have a grandmother back in Arkansas who found out today that her luekemia is back so reading this really hit a soft spot. It's hard watching the ones we love grow older and weaker.

    Reply

  24. finetoo Says:

    I waited until I finished your book before making my first post. . . loved it. Only disappointment was not finding out how you met the Suitor. . . I'm new to the blog, and haven't found the story in your archives (anyone kind enough to give me a clue?) yet. I can totally identify with so many of the things you wrote about. You are a few years younger than me, and man does that make me feel like I need to light a fire under my own ass as to the issues I need to deal with (soooo similar to those you have, but I know I'm not telling you/your readers anything you haven't already heard/read) in my own life. In reading about Gabe, I can't help but wonder what ever became of him and Bernie (silent "ie"). I hope she used and abused that asshole. The part when you confront him the first time after reading the emails, and he calls you a stupd spic. . . man, what a dickhead. Anyway, live and learn. Plus, you don't have to put up with that hag of a monster-in-law . . . OY. Best of luck.

    Reply

  25. JMK Says:

    Weepy and snotty…it's hard to see the ones you love grow old or get sick…

    Reply

  26. Barbara Says:

    When we are very young we love visiting our grandparents because, among other things, they give us love, candy and toys. As we become teenagers, we often resent being dragged to family functions and trips to see the grandparents. When we are young adults we appreciate our grandparents, and if we are lucky, we develop a different type of bond than with our own parents. When you become a parent yourself, you begin to understand, respect, and cherish your grandparents. Just wait and see. And while we all understand the circle of life, and know how it ends, we wish for its postponement more than anything.
    Enjoy your grandfather for as long as you can. Try sending old fashion letters. He is of that generation and would probably love to reread your thoughts over and over again.

    Reply

  27. sarah Says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    I'm so happy you got to visit him and that he didn't turn you away! My grandparents both died recently, and it always feels like yesterday. She had brain cancer and we had to watch her wither; he couldn't take it and I believe thats why he died too, the broken heart. Proved to me the power of love.

    It was very hard visiting her in those last months, but I never regret it. I had the thoughts before she was diagnosed, that was the last Christmas with them, and it was. I felt badly thinking it too.

    I pray that he is able to witness your wedding and his great-grandchild. At the least, he knows that they are both on the way! I wanted mine to stay around for the same, and they both had told me they had lived their lives and were content.
    Hes in my prayers.

    Reply

  28. petro Says:

    lovely. just lovely.

    Reply

  29. tanya Says:

    So where is the wedding slated to be held? We all would luvvvv details, I'm sure!

    The city, Long Island, etc….
    September is a lovely month to get married.
    Felicitaciones.

    Reply

  30. Arielle Says:

    I just read this and teared up~ today would have been my grandfather's 85th birthday; he died just over a year ago.

    Thank you for helping me remember how much he still means to me today, and how much I miss him.

    Reply

  31. Flora Says:

    Cherish your time with him and cherish the memories. I have so many fond memories of the visits with my grandparents throughout my childhood. They are both gone now but the memories are deep and alive in my heart.

    Reply

  32. Michelle Says:

    I had that problem when my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. I would be at home thinking about how awful it would be without him, and then I would start to bawl, and inevitably a friend would bundle me into the car and drive me the 45 minutes to his house so I could see him, that he's still HERE, no reason to miss him yet, though I think that beginning the mourning process when he was here to hug made it easier for me now that he's not.

    Reply

  33. Anna Lee Says:

    Wow…reading this reminded me how precious the time we have with our grandparents and older relatives is. I lost my grandmother 2 years ago, unexpectedly, but thankfully had gone to visit her the weekend before, so at least I didn't have the guilt of 'I should have gone to see her, one last time!' I'm calling my grandparents tonight and planning a visit as soon as I can, so thanks for the reminder.
    Good luck with your preganancy! Hope you're not still feeling sickly!

    Reply

  34. Kat Ava Says:

    my grandmother has diabetes, and things have gotten worse with her, she walks very very slowly, but when she smiles or I make her smile, I think for that one moment i think the pain leaves her and she's living again…

    i was really touched by your entry, oh and currently i am reading your memoir ;)

    Reply

  35. JoeyB Says:

    A friend of mine got married about 10 years ago, and his 90 yo grandma was still healthy enough to make it to the wedding. I wasn't sure she'd be able to, but I asked her to dance. Well, she did, and just as we hit the dance floor, the band switched over to some old Italian music (she's from the other side). It was pretty fast, but she managed to keep up for a couple of minutes.

    She isn't even my grandmother, even though she treated me like a grandson, but it's still a memory I hope to keep with me until my old age.

    Reply

  36. damn yankee Says:

    I never knew either of my grandfathers. You're very lucky. Grandparents are the lifeline to our parents past. The memories of their childhood that you would never know about. My father passed away in January and my daughter is still having a hard time. He and my mother helped raise my daughter. I was a single parent for many years. He did all the "Dad things." Picking her up from school, dance class, girl scouts, teaching her to ride a bike, stopping for pizza every day. She has wonderful memories. He not only raised me, but my daughter also and did one helluva job. My daughter just graduated from Culinary school and it was bitter sweet for her, as he wasn't at her graduation ceremony. He played a big part in her going to culinary school. We're Italian, so food is love to us. Although he did walk her down the isle 2 years ago. I think he lived for that. After she married he went down hill pretty fast. Keep your happy memories of your grandfater foremost in your mind. He'd want that.

    Reply

  37. Vanessa Says:

    My grandmother's been gone for a year, and before she slipped in to a coma, I had the chance to talk to her. She cried, so did I. I never had the chance to tell her how much I loved her, or how proud I was of her. However, I have the feeling she knows, whenever place she might be now.

    I really enjoy your blog. Keep it up!

    Reply

  38. Laura Says:

    Stephanie,

    I bought your book this weekend at Barnes and Noble.. I loved it!! I find you heartwarming, charming, witty, funny as hell and extremely beautiful. Thanks for sharing with us!!

    P.S. You give me hope.. It doesn't have to be the way it has been.. not only with men but with myself in general.

    P.S.S. Those pictures you did with the green peppers.. Where did you get those fab pillowcases the peppers are sitting on? I love them!!

    Reply

  39. Rosa Says:

    How sweet and sad at the same time. I can so relate because my mom has moved in with us. She, too, is regressing; and I do feel like her mother at times and we even laugh about it. Thank God, we can. It makes it so much easier when they are willing and sweet. Of course, they have their moments at anger; but I feel blessed my mom is fairly happy in her old age and can still do most things on her own. I truly enjoyed your family story.

    Reply

  40. Kim Says:

    Thank you so much for this post. As always, your timing couldn't be more perfect. Three weeks ago, I lost my grandmother, and last week my grandfather (other side). Both on the heels of a best friend's death in Iraq — so needless to say, it's been a tough month. But all the more reason to cherish each day, honor their legacies and swim in our memories. I am lucky to have known and loved them.

    Congrats on the book… I expected to love it, pf course, but it's even better than I anticipated. I've even gone so far as to read it under my desk in work lulls. Shh, don't tell. :)

    Love to you and yours — you are so deserving of these many blessings!

    Reply

  41. mamak Says:

    My heart aches … for what you are going through and for what I missed. My grandpa died when I was 18 – he was young(ish)- 60 .. he, of course, seemed old at the time – but now I know he was just beginning. He never got to dance at my wedding, see my children or say goodbye.
    I sincerely hope that your grandfather can celebrate your wedding and your babies with you and Philip.

    Reply

  42. Plantation Says:

    I'm not sure what more can be said here that hasn't been said already. Losing a loved one is sad but it can be look at like a celebration of life. That's how it was with my Katherine Hepburnesque grandmother. Remember NYNY, we cherish the moments when they're with us, and then we cherish the memories when they pass.

    Reply

  43. saja26 Says:

    oh my gosh…i completely understand where those thoughts come from…and feeling guilty for having them. Thank you for letting me know someone else thinks those things too.

    Reply

  44. Liz Says:

    Watching a loved one slowly deteriorate has to be one of the hardest things to do. I remember living with my grandfather the last year or two of his life. He had Parkinson's and it took him piece by piece.

    I really do hope your grandfather will make it to your wedding and also gets a chance to meet your twins. It's difficult not to be able to control when or how we lose someone we love.

    Reply

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