Actually, it began exactly as I expected it to. When I arrived at the nursing home, my grandfather was dressed in a sport coat and bow-tie. This is how I remembered him, dressed up to go to work for the night shift at the Topeka Daily Capitol. He looked frail, but he walked unassisted with a cane. All those years of walking to and from work had paid off for him. And he wore a smile, which is another part of my memory of him. He was cheerful and positive and was always ready with a joke.
I asked him what kind of food he liked. I assumed Joplin could accommodate any preference. "I want to get a hamburger at Wendy's," he said.
"It's OK, Grandpa," I said. "We can eat anywhere you like, anything you want. You and I have never had dinner out together before and I'd like it to be special."
"I want to go to Wendy's," he insisted.
It was a little strange. Given what was available, I don't know why he was adamant about a fast-food hamburger, but he must have had his reasons. Wendy's it would be.
My grandmother had died the year before at the age of 93. I have fond memories of her. I thought she was the most loving, big-hearted grandmother in the world. I asked him, "Grandpa, do you miss Grandma?"
"Oh God no," he said. He took another bite of his burger and continued. "I was so glad to be done with that bitch."
I was so stunned I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to know why he felt that way. It was too much information. I was so bewildered by his outburst that I have no memory of bringing him back to the home and saying goodbye. I don't remember driving out of Joplin, but I know I was headed for Oklahoma on my way to Tempe, Arizona.
Alone in the car, my thoughts took a philosophical turn. Some of these conclusions remain important to me to this day.
- You may have expectations, but be ready to be surprised by what actually happens next.
- You never know what's going on behind closed doors. I had visited my grandparents many times, but I realized I didn't have a clue about their relationship.
- You travel your life journey mostly alone. You can have intimate relationships, but the totality of your experience of being alive is known only to you.
- Aging and dying is hard, a lot more challenging than young people realize.
When I arrived at the Arizona State campus and saw the chaos of my son's dorm room, these lessons reaffirmed themselves. I had to admit that I didn't know what my son's college life experience was like. I didn't have a clue. I turned the car over to him, gave him a hug and caught a plane back to Virginia, to what I believed was my happy, normal life.
Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Photo courtesy of Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers)