Growing up it was really just me and my parents. A few times a year I’d see my aunt, my mother’s younger sister, and every few years one of my father’s siblings might drop by. But mostly it was just me and my parents.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing bad about growing up with that kind of small family. But as I’ve become part of my wife’s extended family, I’ve slowly begun to realize exactly how different it is when you have a large family.
I only ever met one of my biological grandparents – my mom’s mother. She passed away when I was very young – six, I think. I don’t have any really clear memories of her, anymore. I wish I did – and I wish I’d gotten to know her better. But when I moved in with my now wife a few years ago (we were friends at the time), I met her extended family and very suddenly found myself in possession of something I’d never had before; a set of grandparents.
My wife’s mother’s parents immediately accepted me as a grandchild-by-love (and eventually by marriage). I became a part of all family gatherings, most of which were held at their house. Grandpa is 91 years old, and Grandma is 89. Needless to say, long life obviously runs in my wife’s family. So does independence, as even at those advanced ages, until very recently, Grandma and Grandpa still lived completely on their own.
And when I say recently, I mean…very recently. Like last week.
See, a week ago last Thursday, Grandpa had a stroke. He survived – and he’s actually very okay, especially given his age. He’s out of the hospital and in a care facility for rehabilitation for at least another week. But his having the stroke has actually been harder on Grandma than I think either of them would have realized it would be.
Grandma has always been the one of the two with the health problems – Grandpa takes care of her. For the first time in the over sixty years that they’ve been married, he’s having health problems and she is home alone. Except that we – her daughter and her grandchildren – have been making sure that she isn’t alone.
Because here’s the thing about family. I loved Grandma and Grandpa long before my now wife and I were an item. They considered me their grandchild from the moment I moved into the house with their daughter and her family. And I have a very, very high regard for family.
If my parents lived closer, I’d do similar things for them that I do for Grandma and Grandpa – but Texas is a bit far to drive twice a week to water plants or feed pets. So while I would love to be doing things like this (as well as seeing my mom and dad more than once every few years), until they move out here, that won’t be happening.
So for over a year and a half, I’ve been coming over here at least twice a week, watering Grandma’s plants and doing anything else they might need me to do around the house. I’ve done everything from changing the batteries in the smoke detectors to dropping mail off at the post office and everything in-between.
Needless to say, this house is fairly familiar to me at this point – and that’s a good thing. Because with the situation being what it is, my wife and I are basically living here for the foreseeable future.
Not all the time, of course. We’re taking the night shift. We wake up and get here around 9pm, and don’t leave until around 11am or noon the next day, at which point we head home and pass out for six to eight hours, then get up and head right back over here.
This has made me acutely aware of many things, such as what grocery stores are open until midnight or later, and what fast food places keep similar hours. But mostly, as we spend every night listening for Grandma to get up in case she needs help, and helping her in the morning by preparing her pills and breakfast before we head home for our night/the rest of the world’s day.
But mostly what it’s made me acutely aware of is that I hold family in very high regard. Be it family by blood, love, or marriage – I will do anything for the people I love. And while my family tree might be a lot bigger than it used to be, this wolf will forever be fiercely loyal to his pack – extended or not.
As the quote from the 2013 movie Epic says: “Many leaves, one tree.” We’re all connected. And for the foreseeable future, we’ll be very aware of those connections as we move forward with Grandpa’s recovery.
It does make me wish quite a lot that my parents lived closer, though. Even though I wouldn’t have much time now – I would make time to see them more regularly. After all…family is the most important thing.