For almost twenty years I have had a standing lunch date every Friday with my grandma. Through teenage rebellion, fights with my parents, births, deaths and marriages, we have met rain hail or shine in the same café every Friday. And every Friday after I drop her off and as I begin to turn the corner she waves to me from the front of her home. And just as I’ve done since I was a little girl, I wave back out the window as I disappear down the street.
And as I watch her disappear in my rear view mirror, especially lately, I get a sense of nostalgia. Like an imprint somewhere in the depths of my memory, I remember the rituals we’ve had – the walks with Pop around the garden, reading the same golden book before bedtime, and cuddling up to Ma eating toasted honey soldiers in bed while Pop reads the papers. Sometimes it’s just a vague sense of something. Like the sound of Ma slurping her tea or the smell of motor oil in Pop’s garage. The taste of weak cordial out coloured aluminium cups, or the noiseless laugh my Pop made when he thought something was really, really funny, and couldn’t contain his mirth.
All of that rushes back in the few seconds I spend waving her goodbye, and despite the fact her mind is finally failing her and I don’t know how many more Friday lunches there are – I feel safe in those memories. Somewhere in my mind I feel warm and content like that five year old kid snuggling up to her grandma the morning after a sleepover. I feel a little sad, sure, because life has changed so much – it’s hard to be a grown up with decisions to make and routines to follow and bills to pay. And the tables have turned now. Instead of her taking care of me, I’m taking care of her more often than not. The conversation has run a little dry as she gets a little confused now, and she tends to repeat herself a fair bit. And I wonder, when she goes, will I ever feel this safe again? But still, with that wave of her hand, I feel like I’m wrapped in a warm, safe blanket.
And now, as the cycle of life continues, (often without my permission), I see my children cultivating those same warm, safe memories. I delight in the fact that my son goes every Thursday to the library with his “Ma” followed by a sausage roll for lunch. That they take bushwalks together and have sleepovers. That my daughter positively lights up when she sees her grandfather, knowing she will walk to the park with him later that day and climb up the slide backwards.
Grandparents are such a gift to a child. In the same way that I look back today on these childhood memories my children will look back one day too and remember fondly the grown-ups who nurtured them and loved them in ways their father and I can’t. And as much as I adore my own parents, there will always be a very special soft spot for my Ma and Pop. Because the job of a grandparent isn’t to make a child the best person they can be – that’s what a parent does. The job of a grandparent is just to be a grandparent. A special, (grown up), friend.
As my Ma slowly slips away it can be hard to keep our lunch date. It’s difficult for me to see this quietly sensible, loving and gentle woman – who up until a year ago was walking 5kms to daily to get coffee and do a crossword – get visibly frustrated when she can’t remember her nurses name. Or get cranky at her neighbour because she swears he’s stealing from her. But I will not stop our Friday ritual until she finally leaves this world, even if it’s just to feel that moment of nostalgia as we wave goodbye.