I read a book lately that made me realize that we all grow up thinking our lives are “normal,” but only realize later that each of us has a truly different life.
Something that was different in my childhood was that my grandfather (my mother’s dad) had Multiple Sclerosis.
“Multiple sclerosis (or MS) is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another. Today, new treatments and advances in research are giving new hope to people affected by the disease.”
I visited my grandparents, who lived in Nevada, Missouri, every summer. I looked forward to ‘my two weeks’ with my grandparents all year long. They lived close to the square in Nevada, (pronounced Ne-vay-da), and I could walk to town by myself, window shop, buy a cherry coke, wander around, talk to people, go to the library, etc. I truly loved it.
My grandfather had MS the whole time I knew him. He was bedridden, though he sometimes got into his wheelchair in the earliest years I remember. I never saw him walk. My grandmother handled everything he needed.
When I was a child, this was ‘normal.’ I didn’t know why my grandfather was almost always in bed, other than he was ‘sick.’ I didn’t appreciate how very hard it was on him to be so ill, or how difficult it was for my grandmother to care for him year after year. This was simply the way it was, and I didn’t give it a thought.
As the years passed, I learned about MS, and how the symptoms were different for each person, how sometimes the symptoms randomly came and went, and how there was very little, at that point, that could be done.
He was wonderful to me and I loved him with everything I was. I always brought him things I had made, and wrote letters to him when I couldn’t be there. I didn’t realize for years later how truly amazing he was. I never thought of him as ‘ill.’ He was just my grandfather. I don’t remember him ever saying a cross word. He always listened to me prattle as if what I was saying was truly interesting. I spent hours at his bedside in my two-weeks-a-year visits, and we shared years of love.
He had been a drug salesman before he became too ill to work. He and my grandmother were quite the stylish couple, dressing in the latest trends, and they loved to go dancing.
I found some old pictures after my mother died that stunned me. I saw my grandmother and grandfather arm in arm, standing in front of an old house we had when I was a baby. My grandmother had a really pretty dress on, a flamboyant hat, heels, and a pretty purse. My grandfather was dressed in a three-piece suit, fancy leather shoes with white on them, and a nice hat. They looked so young, so happy!
It really came home to me that I’d never seen him stand, or walk, or dance. That I’d never seen him dressed in anything but pajamas. That I had always seen my grandparents through my childish eyes, as my relatives – not REALLY a couple. Not REALLY my mother’s parents. Not REALLY as a couple with hopes, dreams, and then a complete change of their lives.
I regret now that I never told my grandfather how proud I was of him for bearing his health issues in such a generous way, with dignity and love for those around him. I also regret that I never told my grandmother how much I admired her for handling everything for the two of them so bravely.
How lucky I am to have had two such wonderful people to look up to and love!