When I was 24 and newly married, my grandmother moved in with my mom and dad. My grandfather had passed away a few years before, and she had managed to live on her own for a while with the help of family and friends. But eventually age and poor health took their toll, and it became clear that she needed someone at hand almost all of the time to ensure her safety and offer companionship.
My parents both worked and my siblings and I lived in town, so often we would take up some of the responsibility for Maw Maw’s care. All my life we had lived hours away from my grandparents, so although I loved them, I didn’t feel like we had a particularly deep relationship. Once I started spending time with Maw Maw several times a week, I began to realize how very much I had been missing.
My Maw Maw had a razor sharp wit and could keep even the most timely comedian on their toes. She loved a good belly laugh, the kind where her eyes would crinkle up and she wouldn’t make any sound but her whole torso would be shaking. She loved eating out and thanks to the sale of the house she had spent most of her life in, she always insisted on footing the bill. She loved Fiona, my pug dog, whom she called “Thioni” and always slipped table scraps to despite my insistence that she not. But most of all, Maw Maw loved her people. She would call the same 6 or 7 relatives every day, without fail. She considered those who married into the family to be one of her own. She thought the adoption of our first son was the greatest thing ever, and her love for him was fierce and true. There was much about being with Maw Maw that was easy and fun.
But there were the other things too. Helping her use the bathroom or get into the shower on her bad days. Clipping her ingrown toenails because she could no longer reach them and was in pain. Driving her from doctor’s appointment to doctor’s appointment when there were a whole lot of other places I’d rather be going. Those things didn’t come quite so easy, but funnily enough, 3 years later, those are exactly the things I am most thankful for.
Doing the hard and ugly stuff for Maw Maw taught me a lot about love. It taught me that, yes, true love means laughing together and watching the cooking channel while eating popcorn and drinking tea; but it also means being willing to sacrifice your own preferences and comfort for the other person. Anyone can profess love for someone during the easy times, but what about when that person is sick and bed-ridden and can do absolutely nothing about their own hygiene? Are we still willing to act on our love for them then? What if a pregnancy keeps them on bed rest for months? What if they fall into a depression so deep that they can’t even go to work?
Are we willing to suffer with, to stand beside, the ones we love? And if not, is our love truly love at all? What I learned from caring for my Maw Maw towards the end of her life was that I have the potential for that kind of real, true, lasting love within me. Even though it requires sacrifice, and discomfort, and a selflessness that I don’t really enjoy, it’s there for the taking if I dig deep enough to use it. I believe we were made for that kind of love, and offering anything less is selling myself short.
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