“If I had known grandchildren were so much fun, I would have had them first.”
At the 30th anniversary celebration of Children’s heart transplant program, I spoke with a young mother, Lauren, whom Valerie and I had met a few months earlier and whose baby daughter had been transplanted a few months prior to that. Close behind was Lauren’s mother, Pam, the proud grandmother, joyful over such an event and having a wonderful reason to celebrate. Meeting Pam got me thinking about Valerie’s and my mothers and their involvement in Trenton’s challenges, and it led me to share the following thoughts on being a grandparent of a medical kid.
Now that our kids are grown and almost all on their own (Allie is a junior in college), I sometimes think about the comment I first heard years ago that even once your kids are out of the house, there is never a time when you stop worrying about them. For example, our family went snow skiing one year and didn’t tell Valerie’s mother, knowing she would worry the whole time. Once home, Valerie contacted her mother to share the news, and Wadie (yes, that was her actual name) couldn’t help worrying about what COULD HAVE happened.
Prior to the birth of our grandson, Oliver, I hadn’t thought much about how worrying and helplessness compound as a grandparent. We spend years being decision-makers for our kids to get them to adulthood, then when they’re independent, responsible for their own decisions, we hurt when they suffer, and more helpless ourselves as responsibility has transferred. It’s only made worse when our grandchild suffers, because we now worry for our child AND our child’s child.
Wadie and my mother, Shirley, were available during transplant #1 to help but it was mainly being at home with four-year-old, big brother Austin. They rarely came to the hospital, partly because they couldn’t help; partly because they were needed at home; and partly because they couldn’t take seeing their grandbaby lying unconscious in intensive care, But the pain was amplified by seeing Valerie and me, their children, suffering in the same ICU room as their baby, and helpless to fix the boo boo.
Following Trent’s successful transplant, however, both grandmothers stepped into the full-time position of running marketing and PR. Regardless of the setting and regardless of the ORIGINAL topic, whomever spoke with either grandma soon learned about the grandson with a heart transplant. And if the setting was a kids’ event, the topic usually arose within the first few minutes. AND if the setting involved Trenton, the topic was delayed only as long as it took the listener to be seated.
Wadie passed away before Trenton’s cancer battle in 2012, but my mother was again in the helpless position of watching and worrying. No more than a few days passed since the diagnosis when Mom called me. Struggling not to cry, she said, “David, I don’t think your father and I can survive this.” I replied, “You don’t have a choice.” I knew Mom wanted a pity party, but I also knew she would find it somewhere else, and it would help her to know we were prepared to battle cancer; she could worry about her grandson, but need not worry about me. Furthermore, I had my own attitude to maintain for Trenton’s benefit, so I couldn’t worry about worrying. This phone call was one of multiple events during cancer that trained me to control my attitude, as explained further in the Still Thankful book “Positive Attifude.”
In 2015, my parents were given information selectively in the days leading to Trenton’s second transplant. His heart attack ten days prior to transplant, followed the next day by cardiac arrest, were left out of conversations until Trent was transplanted and recovered. My brother’s family lives in the same town as Mom and Dad, so I relied on Danny to manage their news flow.
Both Valerie’s and my parents are about fifteen years older than most of our friends’ parents, obviously slowing them more than it would younger grandparents like Pam (and Valerie and me now). In a similar situation, Valerie’s ICU battle-tested skills would make her a valuable asset to our kids and their kids, even while she worries about them.
After so many years, and into her final days, Mom would occasionally let me know she still prayed for the donor family...and worried about them. She (Still) thankfully felt their pain, but after all, she was a grandmother; she’s used to the worry.
Ever since I was a child, and even today (especially now that I’m married to one), for grandmothers, I’m Still Thankful.
P.S. Please share this with a grandmother.