A year and a half ago, my husband and grandson did the lunch dishes together. It took almost two hours. Yehuda was perched on his Saba’s wheelchair and together they attacked the task. Saba told Yehuda where to spray the soap and where to scrub with the dishcloth as Saba held the dish for him and they rinsed it off together. My kitchen may have been quite the mess when they were done, but a memory was created that day that will last forever in this little boy’s mind.
To him, his Saba is not ‘that man in the wheelchair’ whom he has never seen stand or walk, but someone who does dishes with him, takes him for fast rides in his wheelchair, and loves him. Someone he likes to spend time with.
Chronic illness may rob a family of so much, but it doesn’t have to steal all the positive experiences. They are still possible in many difficult situations if the people involved are willing to be creative, look outside their own needs, and try to make lemons into lemonade whenever possible.
Moshe lives in Canada. He has MS and is confined to a wheelchair. Though he cannot move his lower body, his upper body functions fairly well. His family was visiting from another province. His daughter recently had a baby girl and they had come to show her and her three year old brother off to their grandfather. While on an outing with the visitors, Moshe’s new granddaughter became ill. She was congested and her breathing was labored. They quickly went to the emergency room of the local children’s hospital and began the horrendous experience of waiting for doctors, diagnoses and results.
The three year old became quickly bored. His grandfather decided to keep him busy so that his parents could more easily deal with the crisis. He had the boy climb up on his wheelchair and together they went off to explore the hospital vending machines to see if they had kosher snacks.
Over two hours later, a very happy little boy returned with his grandfather and unpacked bags of potato chips, some soda and cookies for everyone. They then went off to see how many elevators they could find and ride in. When they returned this time, the hospital was ready to discharge the baby who, in the end, was just fine. Her symptoms had disappeared as suddenly as they had come.
Stanley is chronically ill and also lives far from his family. Stanley lives on a block with a playground. Whenever his grandchildren come, they plan to visit the playground with him. With the younger one on his lap and the older one standing on the battery box of his electric wheelchair and holding on, Stanley gives his excited grandchildren a ride to the playground. Once there, the children make him treats in the sandbox, climb on his lap to reach the overhead ladder, and have a wonderful time.
“I may not be able to catch them when they zoom off the slide or push them on the swing,” said Stanley, “but I certainly can give them my undivided attention. And that is what they truly enjoy.”
Penina’s grandchildren are older than Stanley’s and Moshe’s. They don’t get excited about the park and a vending machine hunt would not be enticing either. What they love is to race grandma. Penina, in her electric wheelchair turned to high speed, races her grandchildren. Their goal is to beat the chair. They’ve come close, but haven’t yet succeeded. The laughter and fun they have in the race will last longer then Penina’s ability to continue racing them. The positive memories will last forever.
No one knows what the future has in store. Anyone may get ill or have adversity strike. The chronically ill realize this, perhaps more than most. In the end, it is our positive memories that last forever, color how people remember us and feel about us.
The grandchildren I wrote about will not remember a grandparent who is disabled or chronically ill. They will remember a grandparent who was fun. A grandparent they raced with, went to the park with, and even did dishes with. They will have loving memories of a grandparent who made lemonade from lemons whenever they could.
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