In loving memory of Norbert Zupan — February 27, 1927 to January 16, 2016
“Maybe It Is” — Originally posted: July 8, 2013, slightly edited
For a few days after my vacation in Michigan, I visited my grandparents at their most recent rehabilitation center. I say ‘most recent’ because there was a time when I visited the two of them in a different center and then there was the time that my grandfather came two feet from entering the pearly gates.
That was three months ago.
I approached my most recent trip with a newfound sense of optimism. Before my visit, my family informed me that my two grandparents seemed better, and in higher spirits than past times. I was skeptical of the advice, however, as my family was so close to the situation.
Sometimes, it takes distance to appreciate change.
I didn’t tell my grandparents ahead of time that I was coming to the center. Instead, I soaked up the surprise in their faces as I spoke a casual “Hello” and surrounded them with open-bear-hug arms.
My grandfather was quick to enjoy every minute of the guest’s layover, briskly chirping, “Let’s turn off the TV!” When I mentioned one of our favorite card games, he nearly flew himself to the main lobby of the center to play the game. We needed more space for the cards, of course.
My grandmother was chatty as we flipped and turned the cards of Golf – there are some things that never change throughout the years. She asked questions about my job and the nitty gritty of daily life in my world, which in my head I wondered “who cares?!”, but I entertained her quizzing as best I could. Does “it’s going well” work?
I tried to mention more fun topics like the upcoming Fourth of July holiday and the daily cafeteria sherbet flavorings. Lemon. Raspberry. Orange. Ooh la la. (That’s the newest flavor coming out soon.) After an hour or so, my grandmother called it quits on the game. I asked “how many rounds do we play?” and she said it was over. I went with it.
They rolled themselves back to their room for a brief break before lunch. It was there that my grandmother announced she needed to use the restroom. “Okay”, I yawned as I plopped down on one of the chairs in their room. A few minutes passed before we heard a soft “Norbert, I need help” from the bathroom. My grandfather wheeled his way over to the bathroom door, opened it wide, and stood himself up in front of my grandmother.
With all awkward things, I distracted myself with my cell phone not really knowing what to do or say. It was a few seconds later when I peeped my head up to see my grandfather wiping my grandmother’s… I’ll leave that up to you to finish.
Shocked, I quickly absorbed myself in dream houses and the latest fashion of Pinterest. “Oh, that maxi dress is cute.”
I could not get the image out of my head, though. I thought to myself “is this what life really comes down to?” We marry the love of our life, raise a family, move to Florida, undergo health problems, move back to Indiana, undergo more health problems and then our husband wipes our @$$?
The dining room was full as we wheeled ourselves in, and to an appropriate table in the back. My grandparents filled out their order slips – my grandfather circling both sherbet and rice pudding for his dessert – insisting that I share a treat with them regardless of the fact that they’re both diabetic. (Don’t worry he only took two bites of his pudding. I finished my sherbet. FYI.)
I noticed the residents surrounding us; most half sleeping in front of their lunch plates. I remembered those who encompassed us while we played cards earlier – silently wasting the day sitting in the lobby, guestless and emotionless. My grandmother reminded me of the ‘male screamer’ who spends many minutes of an hour just hollering; “we have a female version too; aren’t we lucky?” she half-sarcastically, half-optimistically asked me. Mentally, my grandparents were a little ahead of the game.
When we got back to their room, I showed my grandfather the Slovenia shirt my sister and I recently bought to wear our heritage proudly. My grandfather’s father came off the boat a little over a hundred years ago. “He spent several years in Ljubljana (pronounced Lou-blah-nah)” my grandfather told me. I thought about how if he wouldn’t have gotten on that boat or received the $50 fare to land, we wouldn’t all be here today. I silently said a little prayer for that one.
I glanced at the shelves full of family pictures with each grandchild appropriately surrounding the larger, framed, black and white picture of my grandparents on their wedding day. I nostalgically remembered all the fun I had with my cousins, the past weekend, soaking up the sun and acting silly in Michigan. I remembered, yet again, without my grandparents that trip wouldn’t have been possible. Without them, we lose life.
My grandparent’s relationship is far from perfect, but they’ve endured everything together. Weddings. Births. Kid’s broken bones. Graduations. Grandchildren. New homes. Old homes. Mortgages. Breast cancer. Strokes. Diabetic comas.
I shuddered as I thought back to the situation I found myself in earlier. There are always going to be people around to enjoy the good times and celebrate the joys, but without family, without love, who is really going to be there to wipe up our poo?
I asked myself the question again – “Is this what life really comes down to?”
And, I realized that maybe it is.
“The thing about Jesus is that death doesn’t win, life comes from Him, and we have all been set wildly free.” ~Emily Freeman