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  • The joy of being an adoptee is that technically, I came into the world with four sets of grandparents. I am lucky enough to enjoy the love of my parents’ parents—the grandparents I grew up with—and my biological parents’ parents. I always tell people who ask what that is like that it just means there is more love in my life.

    Except in life, things are always more complicated that that. For one, we mortal beings do not live on this planet forever. Any idea of eternal love ends when we return to ashes and instead takes the form of cherished memories and time spent together. We may not stop loving those who have passed, but we cannot hold them in our arms or eat grapefruit on the porch or tell stories of camping trips gone wrong in each others’ presence. No one can deny that that love is different.

    Two of my grandparents I never met, and four more have died during my lifetime. The love remaining includes my maternal grandmothers on my biological mother’s side and my mom’s side. What personal connections I make with them—one in Colorado and the other in Indiana—are rare and priceless.

    My Colorado grandma was a lifelong Kentuckian before moving into her assisted living home near my aunt. I did not have any relationship with her until nine years ago when I sought my biological mother out. She’s prim and proper, a Southern Belle from French ancestry, with always perfect makeup and lovely jewelry to match, including some she has recently been making herself. I have not seen her since her husband, my biological grandfather, died two years ago.

    My Indiana grandma, the one I grew up, comes from tough German stock, though her spirit has always been bigger than her less than 5'0" hunched-from-scoliosis frame. She has a strong sense of right and wrong that she never fears sharing, as well as a big and hearty laugh. I loved playing cards with her growing up because she’s always shared my mom’s competitive spirit—though unlike my mom, if she gets riled up while playing, she might cuss you out (albeit in German). I have endless memories of growing up with her—when she would bust into the frozen chocolate chip cookies in the downstairs freezer for me, when she showed me the massive amount of German potato salad she and Grandpa made weekly for a local restaurant, discussing our mutual dislike of George W. Bush and confusion about why so many of her children were Republican, and of course those many, many games of Uno and euchre and gin rummy.

    This Christmas, I flew to my childhood home in Indiana for a visit with my parents, spending time with my mom’s very large and very close extended family. I was shocked to see my grandma’s health declined greatly. Last year, at the age of 85, she seemed in bright spirits and doing somewhat well at my younger brother’s wedding. Though she was walking with a cane, she had no trouble moving independently and standing on her own. Now, she uses a walker, cannot get out of her chair without assistance, and seems to participate less in the goings on around her.

    Christmas Day I got a chance to connect with her. My mom’s seven siblings, their spouses, children, and children’s children were all opening gifts, buzzing about presents and thanking the gift givers. My grandma sat in her recliner, feet propped up, with a giant mound of boxes beside her, looking somewhat into the distance. Despite my resignation to a capitalistic Christmas this year, I donated money in her name to one of her and my grandpa’s favorite charities, St. Vincent de Paul Society, a Catholic-based organization that provides charity and justice for the homeless and other less fortunate people. Before my grandpa got ill he did a lot for the society, and it was listed in his obituary as a place to donate in his name.

    She noticed me watching her and turned to look at me, smiling a sad smile. “Thank you for the card and donation,” she mouthed, though I couldn't quite hear her over the bustle.

    I got up from my chair and walked over to her and held her hands. She smiled bigger.

    “You’ve got a lot of loot!” I joked.

    “Yeah,” she said with a small chuckle.

    “I hope that donation is OK,” I said. “I just didn’t think you wanted any more…stuff. I figured there are families out there that aren’t as lucky as we are.”

    She nodded. Tears began to fill her eyes. I looked at her, almost in shock. My tough grandma crying over a gift? I hugged her and gave her a kiss.

    “It’s good to see you,” she said. “I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet Chris.”

    I nodded sympathetically. “He tried. Last minute plane tickets were outrageous. Hopefully we can get down sometime soon.” I hugged and kissed her again. “It’s really good to see you, Grandma.”

    She smiled that sad smile again, still holding my hands, and we released so I could walk back to my chair.

    When I sat down again, I couldn't stop thinking about her tears. After I thought about it, I realized her tears had nothing to do with the gift but everything to do with her own mortality. Even her words—I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet him—implied a “we will never get this chance again” kind of finality. She’s feeling weaker and her husband is gone and in her mind it is about that time. In my somewhat young and “Carpe Diem” mentality, it’s hard to even grasp what that feels like. But I can certainly put myself in her shoes and sense what a life would be like where you live alone and can’t get around on your own anymore.

    Possibly the hardest part about realizing this is also realizing there is not much I can do to stop the regression. This is the circle of life, after all. But what I can do is resolve to call her and write her and be in better touch over the next year. I can try my best to see if I can afford to come visit and bring Chris with me this spring when work slows down. And hopefully, above all, I can make sure she knows how much I love her. Here, now and always.
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