Our society has a lot of interesting ideas about love. If you ask a Disney movie, love is meeting someone beautiful or handsome, singing a song, marrying, and living happily ever after (which is often left to the imagination as some sort of unimportant, vague concept), with an emphasis on being happy. If you ask Akon, “love” is a word you substitute for the f word in order to make your song playable on the radio. So love and “unabashed monkey sex” (to quote Michael Scott) with strangers are essentially the same in that context.
In my random life, I have recently witnessed an intense, realistic portrait of what love really is. (The human kind, from one person to another). My grandma recently passed due to liver cancer. She was diagnosed some time a go, and thankfully, she was only bed ridden for the month of July before she was gone. We spent some time visiting her, watching her body sort of disintegrate from the inside out. I was amazed as I watched my family rally around her. My grandpa, cousins, uncles, and dad took turns giving her hospice care so she could have her wish to be at home and not alone. They also took care of my grandpa, making sure he didn’t get so focused on my grandma that he forgot to eat, take his medicine, or whatever. He didn’t have to cook a thing, wash a dish, or fold a scrap of laundry. My family loved my grandma and my grandpa through her last moments with such a natural tenacity, I was blown away.
Having been married to her for 62 years, my grandpa really deserves the focus of this musing. My grandparents met and married young… she was 16 and he was 21. These days, people would probably say they were too young and didn’t know what they were doing… but their story speaks louder than any speculative criticism ever could. Together they owned and operated 3 different restaurants, raised 4 boys, buried 2 babies and many relatives, moved across the country from Virginia to California (leaving their families behind), weathered my grandma’s alcoholism in her younger years, survived each other’s selfishness and orneriness, saw the birth of and loved 8 grandchildren and 3 (she almost made 4) great-grandchildren, traveled all over the U.S., managed my grandpa’s diabetes and my grandma’s lung & bone problems, and through it all continued to exude love and warmth to each other, their family, and all they encountered.
When my grandma really took a turn for the worse and was restricted to bed, she had to wear adult diapers – which I’m certain was a bit humiliating for someone as vivacious, stubborn & independent as my grandma. We were there the day a priest came to pray with the family for healing, strength and peace (a more modern version of last rites). My grandpa sat with her and held her hand through the whole thing. The look on his face was not of sadness, but love, devotion, concern, and strangely, peaceful acceptance. After the priest had gone, my cousin and my dad’s cousin were helping change my grandma, and in that moment, possibly one of my grandmas worst, my grandpa came in and kissed her, calling her by his typical pet names, showing her the same signs of love that I’m sure he did early in their realtionship. That moment struck me as one of the most intense examples of real love that I’ve ever even heard of. That is the kind of love many pledge in the line “til death do us part” but few really mean. Even in her last days as she slowly lost all muscle control and lay nearly lifeless in her bed, mouth gaping, my grandpa still looked at her as his dear bride and spoke and interacted with her in the same way.
I am so thankful that in all the random messiness of life, I was able to observe this fantastic thing. My grandparents are no where near perfect, but they didn’t need to be to demonstrate love… real love. The kind that fights through even the worst times, is active and specific, not lifeless and vague… the kind of love that grows despite lapses in personal happiness or temporary dissatisfaction with one’s spouse. Thanks to both of you, Grams & Gramps, for showing us this.