Monday, September 6, 2010

Seashells and Alzheimers

This weekend was family reunion weekend for my mom's side of the family. For as long as I can remember, Labor Day weekend has involved a trip to a pictueresque clubhouse situated on a rivershore to have lunch and visit with a large group of extended family. Growing up it was as close as I ever came to a beach. Families with six children do not vacation much. But, on Labor Day Sunday we would all travel up to the reunion and after the meal was over, I would escape with my siblings and scoure the shoreline for seashells, dreaming of what a real beach must be like. The shells I would find would be small and stinky, but plentiful. No matter how many years I went it was always the highlight of the day to spend hours searching and filling a cup with tiny shells that would smell up the entire car for the ride home.
For several years now I have not been back to the family reunion. Once I entered college I could not see the sense of wasting a precious three day weekend traveling to see a bunch of family that I did not know well, and at my age searching for seashells was no longer a motivating factor. I was content to drift away from the family gathering for a time. This year was different.
My Grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimers a few months ago. When my mom called to tell me the news I felt a weight drop in my stomach. It has been awhile now since I spent much time with Grandpa, but during my childhood he was a very influential figure for me. He is a man that is unfailingly kind to everyone. His relationship with God is woven so seemlessly into his life that it overflows into every conversation and every action, not in an obnoxious "church" kind of way, but in an honest, simple way that is clearly a part of who he is at the deepest level. It has always amazed me how he could say "God bless" instead of goodbye, and never come across as holier then thou. When he says it, I know he truely is praying for God's blessing in my life. Grandpa has always been the ultimate example to me of what a relationship with God can look like.
Dealing with his diagnosis is difficult and it immediatly forced me to confront myself and my failure as a Granddaughter. I have been too busy living my life to invest my time and energy into my relationship with my Grandpa. And now I know my time is limited. He is in the early stages and likely has many more years with us, but even that does not seem like enough. I do not like for him to have an expiration date.
So this weekend was a particularly special family reunion as many of our family that has missed in more recent years made an effort to attend. We all know how important the reunion has always been to Grandpa, and each of us wanted to honor him by being there. We spent time together, laughed together and reminesced about old times. I felt like I spent the entire weekend trying to drink in every moment with my Grandpa. I would sit with him taking mental pictures and trying to imprint his voice and his wisdom in my mind.
Down at the shoreline I watched my niece and nephew gather shells as though they were candy, and I was reminded of all the years when I had done the same. All the times I had come to the family reunion, all the seashells I had gathered, all the years I have had with my Grandpa. I do not own a single one of those shells anymore, but my heart is filled with memories of time spent with Grandpa, and those do not have an expiration date.

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