“I didn’t really know my grandparents. They died when I was very young.” That’s what I say whenever the topic of grandparents comes up. If pressed, I will share that my only memory of my grandmother is of my cousins and me being dressed up and paraded into her hospital room. Even at six-years-old, I knew that this was a very sad occasion and that we were gathered around her bed so that she could see all of her grandchildren one last time. The adults were tearful. The children were well-behaved. It was our official good-bye.
Seldom does that memory come up for me, but it was very present for me the other day when three of MIL’s other grandchildren came to visit. The twin boys are twelve and their little sister is ten. They, along with a seven-year-old who lives in Norway and my children who are five and three, make up the “little guys,” the younger ones among MIL’s grandchildren. She has six older grandchildren, too, but they are young adults. (Well, one is really still a high school student, but he is a little closer in age to the “big kids,” taller than his parents, and has a driver’s license, so we will call him a young adult for now.)
As I’ve stated before, I believe MIL loves her grandchildren, but she was never much of a kid-person—at least in the time I have known her and I’ve only been a member of this family for seven years. Perhaps she was that cookie-baking, storytelling, cuddling Grandma when the “big kids” were small. Somehow, I doubt that.
My sister-in-law told me that when one of her older sons was much younger, he complained that Grandma was always holding “lindo parties.”
She asked, “What’s a ‘lindo party?’”
“I go there and all of her old lady friends pinch my cheeks and say, ‘lindo, lindo.’ I’m not going to another ‘lindo party.’ My face hurts after a ‘lindo party.’”
Ah! I’ve been to that party! When I first met my husband, MIL was already in her 80s, but still entertaining in grand style. Her guests were typically women like her—beautifully dressed, fully made up, Spanish-speaking ladies who had worked at various embassies and South American organizations. Some of them came with their husbands who, for the most part, were white-haired, English-speaking gentlemen in navy blue suits. Waiters circulated with trays of food, bartenders pour Sangria, and Spanish music echoed through the house and onto the patio. Any children present would be pinched on the cheek repeatedly and told how cute they were. ‘Lindo’ is Spanish for ‘cute.’
My children never attended a “lindo party.” Memories the other “little guys” have of them will be vague at best. While the “big kids” had a glamorous, world-traveling Grandma who threw grown-up parties, the “little guys” have a mostly silent grandmother who is a generation older than the grandparents of their friends.
To be fair, before my father-in-law died and before MIL fell, they attended birthday parties, recitals, and basketball games. We went on family vacations. We went to Florida in the summers of 2009 and 2011, and to the Bahamas in 2012, but even then, MIL was mentally slipping and often confused. In retrospect, I’d say MIL was frequently present, but disengaged. From what I now understand, that’s typical of someone in the earlier stages of dementia. Still, we have pictures of the grandparents posing with the grandchildren on the beach and at amusement parks. The photos are proof that we were all there and smiling.
Since her fall, I’ve been concerned about what kind of memories we as a family are creating. MIL once attacked my daughter physically. She called her to her, and when she was close enough, she grabbed her by the hair and yanked her around yelling that she was a “bad girl.” Fortunately, when my daughter talks about that incident, she states it was a case of mistaken identity. “That time when Grandma thought I was someone else, some bad person.” My son witnessed the event and for a long time, he stayed away from Grandma “’cause she’s got bad ‘havior.’ She yank Sissy by the hair!” MIL did something similar to one of the twins while staying with their family.
Now as her dementia has progressed, she rarely acknowledges the children who are always playing so near her. When my nephews and niece visited the other day, MIL didn’t recognize them. She stared blankly and was completely still when one of the twins hugged her, kissed her cheek and asked, “How have you been, Grandma?” It was hard to watch.
So, no, I don’t believe “the little guys” will have a lot of happy memories of Grandma. I just pray that their memories won’t be terrible. If anything, I imagine them as adults talking about our family and their childhood. They will recall Grandma living with us. I hope they will know that their father and I did our best for her and that we truly believed in family. I hope they will see us as loving examples and not as the tired, stressed out pair we have become.
After she is gone, we will talk more about what Grandma was like in that time before they remember, before they were born. They will say, “I wish I had known her back then.” And I will say, “Me, too.”