I was going to post about Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving but then I decided that wouldn’t be much fun for any of us. So I decided to post the story today, a week before Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving I will post our current tradition which will be much more fun for all of us on the holiday.
My Grandmother was one of those people. She volunteered at the hospital, she attended church on a regular basis. My Grandfather and her delivered meals on wheels and they ran the local food pantry. And when I say they ran the food pantry I mean they did everything. When I was younger I would help them out by bagging the groceries and even help hand them out. My Grandmother grew up during the depression and invented the art of extreme couponing way before it was cool. It makes me chuckle that there are shows and blogs about this now.
When I was younger they used to take me camping and travel across the country. They would always watch me whenever my parents needed a sitter. In fact their house was where everyone got dropped off at and made it so that all of the cousins grew up very close to each other. All of us have lots of great memories from playing games and eating homemade ice cream there.
I remember when we got married my Grandfather really wanted me to have a baby. My Grandfather was starting to get Alzheimer’s and since I was ready to have one anyways I made sure to have my son before he died. I remember going shopping with my mom and grandma and he would push the stroller and talk to my son. Although he always called him by the wrong name, they had a lot of fun together! Sadly my Grandfather passed away when my son was about 4 or 5. My son didn’t really understand but it did start my son’s early obsession with God and heaven.
After my Grandfather’s death my Grandmother continued the volunteer work but seemed a little lost. One summer I was really struggling with what to do about day care. We were not really able to afford it but we also hesitated about sending him. This was prior to his diagnosis and we didn’t know what to do. We only knew any time we tried to send him to a summer camp or summer day care I would get constant calls about his behavior. Was it really that big of a deal that he wouldn’t wait his turn or stand in line like the rest of the kids?!?
Anyways we spoke to my Grandmother and she agreed to stay with us for the summer. It worked out beautifully. The two of them got along so well, it was amazing (or a miracle!). It was like she was a natural with him. She still loved to do her extreme couponing, which involved going to multiple grocery stores in one week. I swear she went to a different every day! Not only did he go with her everywhere but he helped her! He unloaded groceries and helped with whatever she asked him to do. When she would move back home in the fall he would insist on unloading the grocery cart for me too.
She really taught him a lot. She taught him about saving money. She taught him always buy when things are on sale. She taught him patience. She taught him to hold the door for women. She taught him to enjoy Christian Music. She taught him to recycle. She taught him that almost anything can be re-used.
One day she found a growth in her lymph nodes that turned out to be metastatic cancer. They could not find the primary site even though she went to many specialists. The oncologists kept saying it was a miracle. She stayed with us another summer and they continued with their routines. They were really perfect together.
I tried to get her to just stay with us but she insisted on going back home to clean out her stuff and then she would move back. Sometimes things don’t go as planned. A few days after she returned home she had to go to the emergency room. The primary site had been found. I will share you the gory details but it was not pretty. This began a series of hospitalizations and surgeries. This was hard on all of us. My son did not like going to the hospital because it upset him so much.
She would come to stay with us in between the hospitalizations. I remember helping her settle in to bed at night and my son would run by naked and she would laugh and say “Did you see that streaker?” She never judged him. She just loved him no matter what he did. She loved to lay in her room and listen to my son play clarinet. She would marvel that he had just started playing.
I will never forget the one night I knew she needed to go to the hospital and she refused. It was the only time she ever refused to do anything related to her health. Why did she refuse this night? Because her great-grandson (my son) had been asked to play a clarinet solo at the chapel service at his school. It was his first public performance since he had just started playing 2 months prior. Right after his performance I took her to the hospital and she was admitted again. She returned home a week or two before Thanksgiving.
Since she wasn’t well enough to go anywhere my husband decided to cook Thanksgiving dinner. The two of them baked her famous apple pies the night before. On Thanksgiving Day they made dinner for the rest of the family. She spent some of the time in her room but she provided constant oversight and consultation. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner together.
After dinner I walked my grandmother to her room because she said she was tired. When she sat on her bed her eyes rolled back in her head. I started screaming for my mom as she is also a nurse. Someone called 911. I don’t know how to describe what all happened. I have worked many years as a nurse and seen a lot of deaths but this was the worst, and not just because it was my grandmother’s. My husband had pulled me into another room when the squad got there. I did go say goodbye to her though.
During all of this chaos someone had taken my son into a different part of the house where he didn’t know what was going on. I went and told him right away. I will be honest he acted like nothing happened. I think it is because of situations like this that people think autistics do not have emotions. He may not have reacted that day but after a diagnosis of depression, medications, and years of therapy I can tell you that he was profoundly affected. He breaks down any time she is brought up or a therapist asks him what he is sad about. Like anyone it has gotten better with time but he still misses her. Usually the month of November is very hard for him. I partially wonder if that is what contributed to his issues the beginning of this month.
We try to make November and Thanksgiving as enjoyable as possible for him. I know how much he loved her and how much he misses her. He was everything to her. I know that she is watching him from heaven.