Stages of Life

John and I went to hear Danny speak at a Good Friday service yesterday. Rebecca wasn't feeling too well (battling sinuses, discomfort and exhaustion in her last month of pregnancy). And the boys had a birthday party to attend at the Murfreesboro Discovery Center this morning. So Danny decided to give her a night and morning of total peace and quiet by bringing the boys out to our house and spending the night. Even though he had the boys, it was a little bit of a break for him too because Grandma Shari helps (like when they are ready to start their day at 7:00 and Daddy would love a little more sleep; Grandma Shari watches a cartoon with them and gives them some nutrition). I just told them good-bye a few minutes ago. And every once in a while it hits me: I am a GRANDMOTHER! (When these kids are adults, I will be considered elderly.)

I have always looked forward to having grandchildren. But, wow. I have a 32-year-old son and in less than a month I will be Grandma Shari to three little boys! The oldest (Joshua) will be five in November. Sometimes I just think, "Wow. How is this possible? How did I get here so fast?"

Life is racing by. And it really does seem like it speeds up as you get older. Maybe it's because of the reality that, by age fifty, you have probably lived more than half of your life already. And you have almost definitely lived the healthiest part of your life. After fifty, we tend to face health issues we didn't plan for. What we often don't stop to realize is just how blessed we are if we have made it to fifty without health issues. And, if that is the case, we have probably taken our healthy body for granted a lot. I know I have.

I was telling John last night that I feel my joints and my back in a way I never did in the past after finishing an hour of walking (at a slight incline) on the treadmill. What I feel is simply wear and tear. I don't need to take something for it (yet). But I feel like I'm in a very "used" body. Or, as they say it these days in the car business, "pre-owned." Ha! I have always been naturally flexible. Not so much these days. If I neglect to stretch and then try to bend at the waist, touching my toes without bending my knees, it hurts; in spite of the fact that I have been exercising for almost twenty years. I have not paid so much attention to stretching because it has been effortless in the past. But now I have to first experience the painful resistance of my body not wanting to hold that position before it becomes tolerable. I am now realizing the importance of daily stretching as I age. My new reality is that if I don't take a few minutes and incorporate this into enough of my days, I will lose more and more flexibility that I cannot regain.

Of course, John is battling CLL and the lasting effects of having taken six cycles of harsh chemotherapy so recently. He never feels all that great, even though he knows he could feel a lot worse and is thankful he can work and function through his health issues. But he has told me more than once recently that sometimes he wonders if he will ever feel good again or if this is just what his life is going to be like from here on out. Last night I laughed and said, "Well, we wanted to grow old together. We just didn't know it would start to happen so soon." Fortunately, we both have a sense of humor about it.

I find myself contemplating the shortness of life on earth these days. My time here is limited. I don't have to fear death because of Jesus and the hope I have in Him. But life as I know it is going to come to an end. And unless I die prematurely, I am going to suffer the loss of people I love. That is not just my reality but everyone's. Because John has CLL, my biggest fear is losing him. I can't imagine my life going on without him. That is bigger to me than my own mortality at this point.

I had a conversation with a friend the other day in which I was telling her how much I wanted to be there for her after her upcoming surgery. I want her to feel 100% comfortable to tell me exactly what she needs if there is even the smallest thing I can do for her when she is needing my friendship most. I told her not to worry about asking for help because the time will come when I will need her and she will have the opportunity to reciprocate. What I didn't say (but was thinking to myself) was, "If I ever lose John, I will need my friends to come over and make me get out of bed in the morning...because I won't want to."

I don't want to sound melancholy because I am not feeling melancholy. Yes, I did have tears come to my eyes as I wrote about John's battle with CLL and my fear of losing him. But I still have him and I am doing a pretty good job of focusing on the here and now. I am savoring every day and every moment, knowing these are probably the best years of my life. I don't want to waste one precious minute of the time God has given me fearing what may come in the future.

My point is this; that if we want to make a difference in the lives of others, if we want to love and serve them, leaving them with a part of us that lives on in their hearts long after we are taken from is the time. Use your health and your strength to be there for other people. You can't get time back after it's been spent. And if we spend all of our time and energy selfishly, we will be very lonely in our old age. Oh, some of our loved ones will care for us out of a sense of duty and because they love us in spite of ourselves. But the relationship part - the tight bond of genuine friendship (whether you are that person's sibling, parent, in-law, grandparent or chosen friend) - is formed through a lifetime of giving, loving, listening, understanding and being known. If we don't establish and nurture those kinds of relationships while we are strong and healthy and independent, they won't just magically appear because we suddenly experience our need.

I want to be a loving and nurturing presence in the lives of my grandsons. And then when I'm old, perhaps they will want to come see me because they like me and my company; not because they feel duty bound to look after me. I mentioned a book I read recently ("How Much More Longer?" by Steve Elder). In this book, Steve reflected on his grandfather ("Pop") and the lasting impact his grandfather had on his life. I did not get to have a "Pop" in my life. I'm not saying I didn't have good grandparents. But I remember mostly discipline and correction. The grandparents in my life were a bit more distant and detached from me emotionally (or so it seemed to me). One of my most humorous reflections concerning my Grandpa Delmar is how difficult it was for him to say the words "I love you." When a person's discomfort with words of affection is palpable, you don't say the words regularly either. Their discomfort makes you feel awkward and uneasy even if you are naturally very expressive.

One day, as a young adult, I just decided to tell my grandpa how I felt about him even though I knew he wasn't comfortable with that expression. I was leaving his house and as I hugged him, I said, "I love you, Grandpa."

And he said, "That's fine." (LOL.)

But at age 89, after he'd suffered a stroke that left him unable to speak or move one side of his body, I went to visit him in the hospital. And it was like he was a completely different person. He could not speak the words now - not because of emotional discomfort but because he was unable to speak physically. Yet I felt his love for me on that day in a way I had never felt it my entire life. With tears in his eyes, he patted his chest (heart) with the hand he could move and then touched and patted my arm. There was such emotion. In that moment - I'm sure he was wondering if it might be one of his last - I sensed how much he wanted to express his love for me. I wish I could have had years of that moment.

None of us has control over how many years we have to be here with the people we love. But we do have control over the years we are given as far as what we do with them. We can invest all of our time, energy and emotion in selfish ambition and self-gratification. OR we can invest ourselves in others; loving and nurturing and creating the wealth of genuine relationship and memories that live on long after we are gone.

My husband is going to be loved and nurtured every day that God gives us. I can't add years to his life, but I can add life to his years. I fully intend to give to my grandsons the gifts of my attention, my physical and emotional presence, my desire to know them fully as human beings, and hopefully a little wisdom. I will make sure they feel accepted and loved and important to their Grandma Shari starting with their earliest memories. I hope to have many years of enhancing the lives of my son and daughter-in-law so that when I'm old and needy, they want me around more than they want to be released from the burden of me. (I laugh as I type this, but I've seen it the other way enough to know that it happens.)

I also love and adore my nephews and nieces and want them to know it while I'm in the prime of life (and that's what I think my fifties are even though my body is feeling the beginning stages of decline). I am so grateful that I have been able to be a part of their lives. As an aunt, I have always wanted to make each one of them feel special to me. Primarily, because they ARE so special to me. But also because I wanted to feel special to someone as a kid and I didn't. I don't say that in self-pity. I was also never abused. I didn't have a bad childhood. Don't feel sorry for me. But I would have given anything to have experienced the warmth and the emotion my grandpa showed me at the very end of his life before he was at death's door. So much time in life is wasted on pride, power struggles and pettiness; when we could be sharing the deepest parts of ourselves and letting others know how much we value them.

We all have troubled relationships. Life is not perfect and neither are people. But I want to make every effort I can to make sure the people I love know I love them now. I have reached the point in life where I don't have the same emotional needs I once did. Thank God, I have let go of so many idealistic desires for certain relationships and have just accepted the limited potential of some. But I have every intention of fully investing myself in the thriving relationships I have been given; which are many.

I wish you all a wonderful Easter and some wonderfully warm moments with the ones you love.

He is risen!


justme said…
Great post, Shari. Wishing you and John and your entire family a very happy Easter. He is risen indeed!