The amazing thing about my grandma is that she is now 102 and still going strong. She has her memory, her mind, her opinions and is still able to go up and down the stairs and use the bathroom herself. I’ve worked in senior care for awhile and trust me. That’s AMAZING. She lives with my awesome sister and brother-in-law and their four kids. And if that’s not good enough to have children around you all the time, the rest of our family surround her often. We have birthday parties for the 9 great grandkids and Chinese New Year celebrations. When people find out how old Mama is and hear about her current situation, they call her blessed. She calls herself blessed.
Yet I often get the sense that people assume that because she is so blessed aging is easy for her. After all, I often post pictures of her with her great grandchildren on FaceBook; each photo captures some of the most precious moments. The issue with FaceBook is the same here. Though our pictures capture sweet moments, they surely are do not encapsulate what our entire life is like. As I watch my grandma age into her 100’s, what I see in her daily life does make me sad. Even with so many caring people who hug her along the way, aging is no easy thing. Almost every action she takes is dependent on someone else. Take Mama’s Sundays for example.
Though a strong Christian woman for decades, my grandma has repeatedly shared that Sabbath day is not her favorite day. How could that be? The mother of a pastor?! Well, consider this. On Sunday mornings, my grandma would like to stay home, however, finding someone who is willing to consistently give up their Sundays to stay with her is a challenge. So, because she is trooper and so very selfless, Mama goes down flights of stairs into the car at around 8:30am to get to church. She does it like a champ (with some assistance).
When she gets to church, my oldest sister and her family go off to their respective classes. At 9:30am, service starts and Mama, my grandma, sits through over an hour of service in Chinese. You might be thinking, “isn’t that great that service is in Chinese?” In most cases, this is “culturally” awesome, but the reality is that she cannot hear most of the words. My mom often sits with her but even if my mom is a few steps away Mama often gets worried. Who is going to help her if she needs to go to the bathroom right away? Or if she needs her bag and can’t find it? Will she call over a random stranger? No. Not likely. She patiently waits till someone she knows (meaning my sisters or I) is nearby.
After over an hour of service. some people say hi, however, due to poor hearing, Mama is often not aware of it. People may say hello, which is really sweet, but again she unless you are right in front of her and speaking loudly, she usually is unaware. On top of that, Chinese people are oh so polite. So when someone nods or acknowledges Mama at church (like so many kind people do), she again is often unaware. If she does hear though, it’s possible that cannot see them (credit goes to macular degeneration and aging eyes). After we walk someone who says hello, it is not uncommon for her to say, “Who was that?” often with a chuckle.
At 11:00am, she is off to English service where she sits with my mom again. The music is loud which is nice because she likes noise, but she cannot hear the words or participate actively to feed her soul. When the sermon comes, she takes notice only because she realizes there is no more singing. Sitting in her hunchbacked position, her eyes are often closed and it’s trademark to see her checking her watch regularly wondering when service will be over.
By now, lunch time rolls around. They have special seating for seniors so she can hang out with people her age. By her age, I mean people who are 20-30 years younger than her (who by the way could be her children). My mom brings her a lunch every week because she cannot eat the food that is served. So she sits at the “senior” table or sometimes with my sisters and I and our kids until food gets delivered to her. She cannot just go up and get it when she wants. With around 200 people eating in the same place, she cannot hear very well and if someone is intentional to converse with her, it is often no more than a few words long. The room is busy and loud, which is good because she likes noise, however, sometimes I wonder if the noise is rather silent.
Lunchtime is over and because we have meetings or have to chase after multiple kids, bring our children to Chinese school or the like, Mama often waits patiently in the church lobby for the next hour or so, resting and waiting until it’s time to go.
After a long day of waiting, Mama goes home.