When my sister and I were younger, my grandparents absolutely loved going to a restaurant called Fresh Choice. We would go often and create an evening full of memories out of it. My grandparents lived close by to my parents’ house, growing up in California. This made it exceptionally easy for my sister and me to spend time swimming, watching movies, playing pretend, and eating at their house. On warm summer nights, my grandpa would drive us to Fresh Choice, which essentially had numerous buffet bars with a variety of different foods. When you walked in, you grabbed a colored tray, got in line, and began thinking about what you wanted to grab from each section. I always started with cold, colorful fusilli pasta and a side of ranch (that’s right, I used to dip my pasta into my ranch and believed I was a culinary master at 13 years old). I proceeded to the hot food, where I piled on small squares of pepperoni pizza and bread rolls, followed by clam chowder, and then finished my rounds with peach slices to balance it all out. We ate and ate! We talked, laughed, and made fun of my grandpa because he claimed to be a health nut but never failed to make his way to the dessert bar multiple times in one evening to pick up a vanilla and chocolate combination ice cream swirl. Nights like these were my favorite, and my grandparents loved them too. The joy it brought them was priceless.
However, my grandpa passed away almost eight years before my grandma. When my grandpa got sick, my dad asked me if there was anything we wanted to do with him before he passed. I said I wanted to eat somewhere with him because he loved food and often spent his free time walking around the grocery store. When he was healthy, he would come home and surprise me with fruit as if it was candy. He always told me to “eat the rainbow!” and would buy grapes, peaches, nectarines, cherries, watermelon, oranges, and any other fruit that came to mind. I’d hear the garage door open and come running down the hallway. “Trinity!!!! I’ve got a surprise for you!!” he would always say before presenting me with his fruitful findings that he was so proud of. Looking back, I think he just wanted to see the smile on my face when I opened the plastic bags to find an assortment of colors there just for me to eat. It made me feel so special and loved.
As my grandpa’s condition worsened, we decided to go out to eat together one evening. Fresh choice had closed by then, so we went to an Italian place he loved. He was slower, but he was happy. He knew what was happening, and I did too. He was approaching the end of his time with his family, but this meal, along with the others, would stay with all of us forever. I knew this would bring him joy. All I wanted for us as a family was to feel whole and supportive as we sent him on. To this day, I love fruits of all kinds and colors. I can hear his words, his tone of voice, and see his bright grin, crinkled nose, and bushy eyebrows on his face as he gifts me memories that I will never forget.
When a loved one is walking towards the end of their path on Earth, it can seem impossible to comprehend how to move, act, or exist when thinking about the world without them. If they are of sound mind, they know what is coming. As hard as it was for me both times with each grandparent, I knew the last few months, weeks, and days count not just for me but for them. Take time to concentrate on what brings them joy. Focus on the smiles and laughs that come from doing something special, even if it’s small. Watch their favorite TV show, take them to a movie, cook something together, and read them stories out loud. At the end of the day, the people that we cherish want one thing. Not necessarily more time, but to make the time count.
My grandmother was different from my grandpa. She wanted to be up, active, and doing things until she physically could not anymore. My mom, a hairstylist, was putting color in her hair until the last few weeks she was with us. My grandmother was big on jewelry too; she could’ve had her own storefront just by the quantity of jewelry she had collected over the years. My grandmother was a stylish woman, with everything always color-coordinated and festive depending on the time of year. Some of her favorite things to do were watch movies, shop with me, order things from the tv, paint (she was an excellent artist), do crossword puzzles, and give “grandma hugs,” where she would hug and squeeze us as tight as she could. When she got diagnosed with lung cancer, it was difficult, and the prognosis wasn’t good. However, she defied everyone’s expectations and lived with it for four years. During that time, we all thought about how we would begin to say goodbye to our matriarch as a family. We spent lots of time with her, helped her run errands, and did what we could to make each other happy. Unfortunately, I lived out of state at the time, so I called her often. I saved all her text messages and read them from time to time. Within the last few months of her life, while she was still mobile and walking around. She asked me, my sister, my mom, and my aunts (her daughters), to sit with her and sort through all of her jewelry together. So, for a few days, we took the time to honor her wishes and sorted through it all, each picking out our favorite pieces to keep and remember her by. She told us the stories behind each piece, but there was so much that sometimes her answer would be, “I honestly have no idea!” By the time she passed away, we all had our very own Betty Collection to keep forever. I will cherish those memories and her gifts to me for all time.
At the end of their journeys, both my grandparents and I were simply grateful. Grateful for the time and the memories. Grateful that out of all the people in this world and this lifetime, we had each other. As you navigate this precious time, remember that you don’t need to spend copious amounts of money or try to fill every second with an activity or bucket list item. With circumstances being as heavy as they are already, create space by making it simple. Your time with your loved one is priceless, and remembering their smile as you walk them around the block or sit with them while they reminisce about the good old days will give them the strength and peace you both need for the next chapter.