This wasn't much of a surprise-- while Mom was here last week I became well aware of Grampa's current state, and was reminded yet again of how much time she spends tending to him and Grammy. Every day it seemed she spent time talking on the phone with Grammy, Grampa, Aunt Marcie, or all three. My grandparents moved into a retirement home several years ago, and have since been battling various different health issues: minor strokes, tongue cancer, blood infections, etc. For years I've been kinda waiting, in the back of my mind, for that call to let us know that one of them had passed, but they seemed to weather each of these problems and come back, relying perhaps on that ingrained stubbornness they each possess in vast quantities. My mom and aunt have been bearing the brunt of their care, visiting them often, dealing with the staff at the home, battling decisions such as whether they should still be allowed to drive and what level of care they truly need, and how to find a nurse that Grammy won't fire within 24 hours. My uncles, scattered across the country, have also helped however they can, but for Mom it's been constant and daily. I don't know if I'd say that it feels like a burden, exactly, but it certainly takes its toll, I'm sure. Grammy seems to be doing pretty well these days, considering, but Grampa's been doing steadily downhill it seems. His mental lucidity has been coming and going for a while-- whenever we'd visit we wouldn't be sure if he'd sit in his chair seeming dazed, or engage Zach in an involved discussion about business and his career path. But it seems now he's more and more losing touch, and has even been diagnosed as in the last stages of dementia. His body and brain seem to be breaking down, and Cristina informed us in the email that he is now refusing food and drink.
The realionship between Grammy and Grampa, and me and my sisters, has always been a bit complicated. We grew up in Chile with my dad's mother, the quintessential sweet and loving grandmother. She brought us chocolate and gifts on our visits, and always had kind words to say to us. So when we moved to the US and instead were presented with my mother's parents, with their gruff demeanor and propensity to dole out criticisms instead of praise, it was a bit of a shock. Especially in those first years, Grammy never seemed to feel shy about letting us know what she thought of our dad (a scoundrel who stole their daughter away to a 3rd world socialist country, a marriage they never approved of, followed 20 years later by a divorce that they must have felt somewhat happy about but gave them yet another reason to dislike him... despite giving them 4 grandkids and being overall a perfect gentleman and great father). I also remember quite clearly, as I'm guessing my siblings do, too, when Cristina told them she was marrying her boyfriend of just a few months and Grampa loudly declared that to be the dumbest thing he'd ever heard. So yeah, I don't think many of us liked them very much for a long time.
Over the years things changed a bit, though. I think they mellowed a bit on their ways, and we became more understanding of them, their upbringing, the era they came from. It doesn't excuse the cruel things they've said or done in the past, but it does help to know that they love their family more than anything in the world, and that their every action has always been out of love and a genuine desire to do what they believe is right. I may not like their methods but can't help but respect and love them as people. They were a great source of support to my mom in those years after we moved to the US, suddenly a single mother to four children and trying to make ends meet. They formed a close bond with my brother, spending much time with him as he recovered from brain cancer in his 20s. And as a testament to how much they really had relaxed over the years, they didn't even (publicly, or to us, at least) object when Zach and I *gasp!* moved in together 6 months before our wedding (it probably helped that he was an upstanding gentleman, a graduate of their beloved University of Texas, who'd been recently hired to a professional job with a good salary). At our wedding I gave them my bouquet, in honor of their 60+ years of marriage.
I think Zach and I have also been bestowed with an added level of warmth since providing them with their first great-grandchild, named partially after them. They've met Donovan a few times, and have always been thrilled to see him. I'm almost wondering if he and I should make one more emergency trip to Austin, but in Grampa's state of mind I'm not sure it would matter much anyway. Part of the reason Zach was hesitant to buy tickets for a trip home before October was that he's been expecting us to need to go back pretty soon for a funeral, anyway. It's sad to think of Grampa passing on, but in some ways it seems better for him to go sooner than later since his quality of life sounds, well, pretty crap right now. I don't know... I guess all there's really left to do now, is wait and see.