catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 24 :: 2010.12.31 — 2011.01.13


Living like Grandma

Becoming old can’t be fun. Dreams get lost in the shuffle. On average, you’re likely to attend more funerals a year than birthday parties. The government no longer trusts you behind the wheel and squashes your mobility. Etcetera…

Reflecting on aging makes me recall the first few lines of Jane Kenyon’s poem “In the Nursing Home:”

She is like a horse grazing
a hill pasture that someone makes
smaller by coming every night
to pull the fences in and in.

Those four short lines leave me gasping for air.

Recently, my 85-year-old grandma made the move to a tiny suite in a retirement home. This was a big transition. Not only did it mean that she had to part with many of her meaning-filled possessions, but it also symbolically proclaimed that the end was near. “This is my last move,” she said again and again. 

My grandma has done her share of moving, each new place smaller than the last.  She grew up on a Mennonite farm outside of Kitchener, Ontario. She liked to run in the fields. “I could outrun my brothers,” she recalls with a mischievous grin on her face. Eventually Grandma moved to Galt, where she met and married my Grandpa. They lived in a four-bedroom house for many years. In 1998, Grandpa died of a heart attack. Soon after his death, Grandma moved into a large condo.  From there, she moved to where she is today. 

One would think, like the horse in Kenyon’s poem, that this progression would have slowly sucked the life out of Grandma, but it hasn’t. In many ways, her zest for life has never been stronger; her routine is filled with meaningful engagements. She sings in her church choir, she serves lunch in the assisted living wing of her building and she volunteers in my mother’s classroom every Friday. In addition, much too my family’s slight discomfort, Grandma has struck up a relationship with a gentleman who lives down the hall. Among other activities, they attend lunchtime concerts at local churches several times a week.  (They both love music. Grandma plays slide-guitar, and Merle plays, if you can believe it, the saw!)  “I’m so blessed,” are the words I here most often from Grandma’s mouth.  

In many ways, I am in awe of my Grandma’s adaptability. Most of the elderly people I know have been unable to befriend the aging process like she has.  The losses they have experienced have been too great.  And though they still live, their lives have all but ended. This is not the case with Grandma, however.  Her glass is overwhelmingly half full.

Granted, my Grandma has it pretty good.  She’s financially stable, and her body functions as it should. She also has a loving family and a new boyfriend. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by her current love of life, but for some reason I am.  In my experience, she seems unique.  

The other day, while listening to Grandma read her poetry (she writes poetry?), I had a realization: when I grow up, I want to be just like her. I probably should have told her that right then and there. “What’s her secret?” I thought to myself after the visit. “Somehow she is able to delight in life’s riches even while her world gets smaller.” 

After reflecting for a while, I think I’ve been able to name a few of the factors that have helped my Grandma transition in her old age. From what I can tell, Grandma is flourishing because she has a sense of vocation, because she is able to take great delight in simple beauty, because she has and nurtures meaningful relationships, and because she has experienced and trusts in God’s goodness.

I believe the last factor especially deserves some reflection. Like I said before, “I’m so blessed” are the words I hear most often from Grandma. Her God-narrative is that God cares for her and, in and through all things, is working for her good. This simple, biblically-based belief has served my Grandma well. In many ways it is the foundation for all the other areas of her life. Her narrative of being “blessed” informs her sense of vocation, her disposition to recognize and delight in beauty, and it gives her the confidence to continue nurturing meaningful relationships. Feeling blessed by God has informed and transformed her life.

On January 6, 2011, my wife Brittney and I will begin our trek across the continent to Vancouver Island. We have been called to co-pastor a church in Victoria, British Columbia. In many ways, it feels like the fence around our life is opening up into a larger and unknown field. We feel excited ,but we also feel scared. This is a big transition. 

I imagine that in some (but certainly not all) ways, the feelings we are experiencing with our move are similar to the feelings my Grandma experienced with her move. Thankfully we have Grandma’s wise and courageous example to help us navigate through life’s transitions. When we arrive in Victoria, we plan to transform a small space into a home, use our gifts to serve our community, delight in beauty (which won’t be hard on the Island), nurture meaningful relationships, and continually remember and proclaim God’s goodness toward us — easier said than done, I suppose, but certainly worth the effort. 

I am so blessed to have Grandma’s example and presence in my life. I want to be like her when I grow up.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus