Lessons from My Grandparents

I am one of the few lucky ones who, at age nineteen, still have all four of their grandparents. At the beginning of the school year, I decided that Tuesday would officially be Grandparent-Calling Day. I only have one class on Tuesdays, so I figured my free time would be well-spent by updating my grandparents on what was going on in my life. I called Nanny and Poppy, my grandparents on my mom’s side. They’re lighthearted and relatively carefree, and their phone conversations never last more than five minutes. Then, I called Nan and Granddad, the grandparents on my dad’s side. Well, I really just called Nan, because Granddad has Alzheimer’s and no longer can speak. It’s sad and upsetting for several reasons. I know that Nan is extremely lonely, especially because Granddad was moved to a nursing home before I came home for winter break. Sometimes during our phone calls, Nan will get choked up talking about how Granddad used to shower her with attention and love, but now he can’t even respond to her. This man, an incredibly intelligent doctor and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, cannot even form words to communicate with her. It’s sad for me, too, because, as hard as I try, I can barely remember what he was like before he had Alzheimer’s.

Around Christmastime, my cousin Facebook messaged me, asking me to send her my favorite memory with Nan and Granddad for a book she was making as a gift for them. I could think of plenty for Nan, but I struggled remembering one for Granddad. I remember almost crying about it to my roommate out of frustration. She suggested that, instead of struggling to come up with a distant memory, I should instead focus on a recent one. It worked, even better than I had expected. In writing about this particular memory, I discovered the lessons I learned from Nan and Granddad. Here’s what I wrote:

My favorite memory of Nan and Granddad is relatively recent. Very few teenagers are lucky enough to have their grandparents attend their high school graduation. I was one of those lucky ones – lucky enough to, in fact, have all four of my grandparents watch me receive my high school diploma. It meant the world to me when, before reading the final prayer, I looked out at the audience and saw Nan and Granddad seated with my family. I know it must have been difficult to get there, as Notre Dame has a big campus and is sometimes challenging to navigate, but I was thrilled to share such a special moment with both of them. It was the lessons they taught me throughout my life that allowed me to enjoy my high school experience and reach my potential as a student, friend, and Catholic. Nan’s creativity in her cooking and storytelling inspired me to expand my boundaries and address problems in different, innovative ways. Granddad’s famous tickling attacks or the one time I couldn’t control my laughter when Granddad slipped out the word “damn” in a competitive game of Apples to Apples, Jr. taught me that a hearty laugh or a fit of giggles has medicinal value when you’re stressed or upset. And no matter what, God and family come first, as the collection of stories in Nan’s book remind us. These lessons help me stay true to who I am every day as a college student, and I couldn’t be more thankful that I have been blessed with such influential role models.

Whenever I am too stressed out or act too seriously about life, I need to remember what Nan and Granddad taught me. Nothing is more important than the bond you have with your family, and I am extremely blessed to have a strong one.

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