When I was a little girl, my family would frequently go to visit my grandmother an hour or so away at her house. Most of those years, she was living alone; my grandfather passed away when I was only a few years old.
Her house was like heaven: fully stocked with toys, watercolors, and a cookie jar stuffed with fudge cookies. As a kid, I never knew my grandmother as anything other than joyful.
But growing up is full of challenges, and so is growing old.
In addition to our weekend trips to her place, my grandmother often came to stay with us and help my mother around the house. At one point, my home had four girls under the age of six in the house, so an extra set of hands was a true blessing, to my parents most of all.
I was unaware of what a blessing it was to my grandmother until later on. Living on her own without my grandfather was really hard for Grammy. Like many of the elderly,she struggled with loneliness. Our family was also thinking ahead to when my grandmother would be older and perhaps her ability to do things like drive or walk up and down stairs would be diminished, at which point living on her own could even become unsafe. If you or your family have helped to care for an elderly relative, you are probably keenly aware of some of these challenges. Maybe you’re worried about whether a grandparent should still be driving or whether it is safe for them to live alone.
With all of these tough decisions on the horizon, it’s tempting to focus on the challenges of old age, but this new phase comes with unique joys as well.
After a couple of years of the constant back-and-forth between Grammy’s house and ours, we decided to move into a bigger place across town, and we asked our grandmother if she would like to live with us. This decision wasn’t in response to a loss, instead it was seen as a win-win for everyone. We even threw a big party, complete with a banner over the front door, when she moved in.
When Grammy first came to live with us, she was a huge help to our family. She championed laundry duty, cooked whenever my parents went out of town, and drove us to and from school. She would take my sisters and me to the movies and out mini-golfing. If I ever had a bad dream, I would climb into bed with her and fall asleep instantly. She basically helped to raise me and my sisters.
There are hard memories too. There were tough conversations, like when a close call with opposing traffic led us to decide that Gram should not drive at night anymore. There are now more limits on what she can do on her own. For example, she used to stay at home by herself when we left for long trips but now stays with our aunt and uncle in case of emergency. We used to bring her with us every year to put flowers on her husband’s grave, but now she has a hard time walking on the uneven ground at the cemetery, and those visits have become less frequent.
All of these memories came into focus when my grandmother celebrated her ninetieth birthday almost two years ago. My family threw a huge surprise party for her at a local hall and invited all of her friends from town. Our extended family and neighbors came too (and somehow all managed to keep the secret!). As I surveyed the room, I realized the uniqueness of my family life.
When I was younger, visiting Grammy was a special event. As I grew up, Grammy became a part of my everyday life. I think my favorite memories of all are the mundane ones, like sitting in the front seat of her car after a long day at school and telling her all about what I had learned in class. And the fact that my grandmother still sits in the same seat she occupied when she first came to live with us, and we all still love to share a meal and a lot of laughter together.
As the years have gone on, I’ve come to understand that living with us has been good for my grandmother’s mental and physical health—she still comes up and down the stairs every day and keeps busy with chores, and she is always eager to talk and hear about what is new in our lives. She says that staying in the know about our love lives is what keeps her young!
My grandmother has lived with my family for more than fifteen years now. I no longer live at home with my parents and Grammy, but I regularly visit home to continue our chats about my work, my friends, and yes, my love life. There are many different ways to stay in touch with our grandparents, and I’ve found it doesn’t always have to include a special occasion or trip, but that a simple call, email, or text about the most mundane can be extra special for our grandparents (and us, too).
Editor's note: This piece has been updated since its original publication.