We’ve all had a time in our lives when we’ve witnessed something like makes you say “I want to be like that when I grow up!”. Yes, I even say “when I grow up” at 30 because I figure when we stop growing, that’s all there is and it’s over. I have two people in my life who, over the years, have made me say this again and again. In the past week, I’ve said it everyday.
Picture this: A beautiful young woman, the viking princess we’ll call her. A handsome young scholar, studying law in the hallowed halls of Cambridge. Both in a land far away from home still healing from the recent scars of WWII, they meet and they fall in love. They married and soon had two beautiful children. The viking princess left her home and her family with the man she married and their children and moved to his island home, on the other side of the world. Their third child then completed their clan and the island became their permanent home. “Fairytale” isn’t a word I’d use to describe the journey – “resilience”, “dedication”, “strength” and most of all “real love” are much better descriptions. Almost 60 years later, I stand here as the first child of their first child, my son is their first great grandchild.
A mere 4 months ago, she celebrated her 80th birthday. A week ago tomorrow, she suffered a stroke.
She’s now lying in a hospital bed unable to move her left side, unable to help herself. I understand where my frustration with feeling helpless comes from – this strong, beautiful woman. She spent her first night trying to climb out of bed with her mobile side. I understand that she wants to go home. I sit with her and she tells me how awful she feels – but is Grampa ok? Has he eaten? Has he rested? She’s afraid when he’s not there but worries that he’s worrying too much about her to take care of himself. All the while, she can’t see that he’s moving mountains to get her the very best care and ensure that he’s doing everything possible to guide her along the long, hard road to recovery. He’s studying reiki in order to be able to help her heal – as a staunch supporter of modern medicine, what else explains his faith better than his love?
She asks me to cancel her hair appointment and apologize to her stylist for her not being able to make it. She says her housekeeper has come to visit, so she’s not worrying about the house and garden anymore. Then a worried look comes over her face, she says with great concern: “I don’t think I’ll be able to make Christmas puddings this year. Everyone looks forward to them every year, I’m sorry I’ve made such a mess of things.” I wipe away the single tear, run my fingers through her hair and smile at her. “Don’t worry Grams, you can supervise while I bake.” A strained laugh and a smile. She’s worried about her husband, her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandson – anxious to be up and about so she can get back to the business of being the matriarch of our clan. She admits that while it would be nice, she has accepted that she is unlikely to ever see the streets of Stockholm again. After five days and the doctor’s insistence, her wedding bands have been removed to relieve the pressure from the swelling of her hand. I’ve never seen her without them, one of those rings was her 50th anniversary gift from her husband.
The journey has been long and not always easy. I know of some trials, but I accept that I will never know everything about their relationship. However, I do know this – after all this time and in this time of crisis, their commitment to each other is the strongest and most beautiful thing I have witnessed. Neither of them will give up, not on life, each other, nor their family. We’re looking forward to having her back home.
The four generations that stand beside you now are a testament to the blood, sweat and tears that you have shed in this life. I love you Grams. I love you Gramps. Thank you for showing my cynic that “real love” exists – not the fairytale/storybook/movie kind. The kind that builds a family and keeps it together, no matter what.