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Making Lemonade The Positive Memories

I just got off the phone with my oldest grandson. He is four. He will be coming to visit us this summer and he and I are planning what we shall do together, and as a family. When I asked what he would especially enjoy, he paused and thought for a bit and then said, “What I’d really like, Bubby, is to go to the Children’s Museum and do dishes with Saba (grandfather).”

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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More Articles from Ann Novick

When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/making-lemonade-the-positive-memories/2004/09/15/

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