She squeezed our hand and started to open her eyes. She blinked silently and seemed to look from person to person. There was an excitement in this very small achievement. My sister, mother and I cheered her on and we all lovingly rubbed her arms and legs. My mother looked into my Abuelita’s (grandma in Spanish) eyes searching for some sign of recognition. “Open and close your eyes Mami,” she said. We held our breaths and waited for her to respond. A second or two passed, but slowly and with determination, my 84-year-old Abuelita fought to show she was still there. It is amazing how in one blink hope can be restored. Hope that perhaps against all odds my Abuelita will come through her stroke and begin the long journey back to us. In that moment, I was not a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, or a friend. I was a granddaughter – a role I honestly never really thought about.
I have always known I was blessed to have my Abuelita, but she never lived close during my childhood and my relationship was long distance. She lived in Puerto Rico and we lived in Virginia. We would visit each other once a year at best. I knew I loved her and enjoyed my visits, but I didn’t understand the importance of a grandparent. As I became an adult, I started to really appreciate and respect her strength. She is an independent woman who works harder than anyone I know. Until a couple of months ago, she was living alone, tending to her land by herself (usually mowing her own lawn, because no one could do it well enough), caring for her ailing relatives, praying regularly, and doing her daily yoga – something she started doing long before it was considered cool.
When I became a parent, I finally got it (like so many things). I watch the love my parents and my in-laws have for my children and I understand that having grandchildren is a blessing and an opportunity to continue the love you created when you brought your own baby into the world. My children adore their grandparents. It is an easy and natural love. I am so lucky that my children are growing up knowing their grandparents. I am also lucky to have the support of my parents and in-laws on a regular basis.
I know that as we become adults the parent-child relationship can become complicated and marred with personal baggage. But, you will be surprised how little this will mean to your children. The pureness of the love between a grandparent and grandchild shouldn’t be spoiled, but fostered. I recently read a tweet from someone complaining about the intrusiveness of her mother. She said her mother didn’t respect her parenting choices and wanted to do things her way when caring for the grandchildren. I say, let your mother or father be a grandparent, not an exact replica of you. If grandma wants to serve a homemade non gluten-free cookie, let her. If grandma wants to put an extra sweater on your child before heading to the park, let her. If grandma wants to teach your child about some ridiculous lore or legend from her childhood, let her. Life is too short and precious to deny your children or your parents this experience. There are so many people who never had this choice or opportunity and would do anything to have their parents meet their children for even one day.
One of my favorite things is watching the wonder in a child’s eyes when he/she learns that their grandma is really their Mommy or Daddy’s mother. It is so amazing watching their minds process this information (you mean you were a child once?). The children in my daycare with grandparents in their lives often talk about how excited they are to see Nana, Pop-pop, grandma, grandpa, Granny, etc. And when a grandparent picks-up, you should see how the other children react to this special visitor. Sometimes, it’s like a superstar has walked through the door. Whether your parents are living near or far away, try to make an effort to encourage a relationship. It is one of the best gifts you could ever give your children, whether you realize it or not.
Right now, we are standing vigil and praying for my Abuelita’s recovery. We have hope in our hearts, but, we also have a certain peace knowing that she has lived a full life. She is loved by three children, nine grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. One day, I hope to be as strong and healthy as she has been. One day I hope to be an Abuelita.
Update: Carmen Luisa Rodriguez passed away peacefully in the presence of loved ones on July 30, 2012 at 12:20 am.