It was a trip I both anticipated and feared.
It had been more than two years since we’d been to Florida to visit my grandmother. Life had gotten in the way. I’d been pregnant, and then caring for a newborn. My mother-in-law’s illness had kept us close to home. By the time life settled down, my son was turning two, and the thought of flying to Florida with two small children seemed overwhelming. As did the thought of keeping my son from scaling my grandmother’s unblemished dining room table, or taking my 5-year-old daughter out of school. After the difficult year we had just endured, I reasoned, Florida could wait.
But then, suddenly, it couldn’t.
My grandmother, who had always been the picture of health, suddenly needed heart surgery. Then sciatica hit, and constant pain began to depress her spirits. Around the same time she turned 95, a number that really hit home. Suddenly I longed for her to meet her great grandson, to see the beautiful girl my daughter was becoming, to tell me stories about being a young, working mother — all while urging me to fill my plate with another helping of gefilte fish, because I “hardly ate anything.” Maybe Florida couldn’t wait after all.
And so, last week, we went for the long-overdue visit. Yes, the flight was chaotic. Yes, my son broke a dish — and a few other household items — in my grandmother’s home. Yes, my daughter was restless some of the time. But other, more important, things happened too.
Every morning my daughter woke up excited to go to Grandma’s house. Her enthusiasm brought back my own childhood excitement at visiting my grandparents’ home in New Jersey — searching for pennies stashed in old, wooden boxes, laughing as Grandpa teased me in Yiddish, listening to family stories over cold cuts on rye. As I watched my daughter color at Grandma’s table, surrounded by photos and trinkets I remembered from years ago, I felt a comfortable familiarity I hadn’t expected, and didn’t want to leave.
And then there was my grandmother’s reaction to our chaotic little crew. After weeks of unremitting pain, a smile crossed her lips as she watched her great grandson explore her home, a den of wonders tantalizing him with glass candy dishes and old shoes buried deep in Grandma’s closet. She laughed as I scurried about hiding breakable trays behind chairs, smiled as my daughter presented her with a “family portrait” featuring Grandma, drawn in purple, in the center. For a brief moment, her pain subsided, as she and her great grandchildren connected like old friends reunited after years apart.
Of course it wasn’t a perfect trip. My grandmother had difficulty walking for much of our visit, and my husband and I were helpless to ease her pain. My kids fought over the gifts she gave them, and I’m not sure my daughter ever spoke loudly enough for Great Grandma to fully understand her. Finally, we almost missed our “big dinner out” with Grandma after our rental car’s front tire blew out on the highway, terrifying us all.
But when it was time to go, each one of us was sad. The kids were sorry to leave the warmth of a home they had only known for a few days, but where they were welcome the moment they walked in the door. My husband missed her sharp, endearing sense of humor. And, as for me, I missed the opinionated, wise, funny woman whose love I had come to take for granted.
As I left her door that day, I longed to stay, to hold onto her as long as I could. And, at the same time, I was thankful. Thankful that she had walked my daughter through those yellowing photo albums filled with family history. Thankful my son could celebrate his second birthday with his great grandmother smiling at his side. Thankful that I got to share this special person with my children, even if they could only partially grasp the weight of the moment.
If you ask me, that’s worth a broken dish and some tantrums and turbulence in the sky.
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