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Hugs for Nana

April 27, 2010

I don’t usually post about personal news, but I have a sweet story to share.

My great-grandmother (Nana) is just over eighty years old and lives with my family. I rarely visit home, but I was in town a few days ago and I stopped in to see her. Everyone else was off doing other things, so we had time to sit and talk and it was good. She’s a funny lady and I giggle endlessly once we get going. We’ve always had a strong relationship and I enjoy the favorite grandchild status.

It’s been hard watching her age and struggle over the years. Not all of my family members treat her respectfully, and caring for her daily has taken an irreversible toll on their relationship. Her hip pains her and she can’t walk well, so she lives in a wheelchair. She’s had Alzheimer’s for several years now and it affects her memory. Her short-term memory is very touch and go. Thankfully her long-term memory is still intact, even if the details are a little fuzzy. Often she can’t remember if I’m a grandchild or a great-grandchild. She always knows who I am, she just can’t always recall which person is my mother.

One thing that I’m always careful to do is make sure that I hug her when I visit. No one realizes how important touch can be until they’re denied it for long periods of time. Then a single, simple hug can melt weeks of loneliness and give someone the strength to keep going. This last time I felt a concern when I was sitting next to her. It was an irrational, worried feeling that made me want to stay and spend more time with her.

We talked more than usual – told silly stories and discussed family members. Most of all though, I hugged her. I just held onto her and she clung to me. Before long we were both crying and we just stood there, gripping that moment of safety and love and compassion and committing it to memory. It broke my heart, and yet it mended it too. I’ve always felt guilty for moving away and leaving her there. I know that I should visit more often.

I told my Nana that she could call me on my cell phone any time if she wanted to talk to me. It’s not something I’d mentioned to her before and she seemed very happy about the idea.

About twenty minutes ago, I was surprised to get a call from her. My grandmother helped her with the cell phone since she has trouble, but then my Nana took over the phone. She had a story from my childhood that she wanted to share about how she’d dye my shoes to match my dresses and we’d go out. I remember she’d sew little purses for me as well. I couldn’t understand all of what was in the story. It was difficult to hear her over the phone and I couldn’t ask her to repeat anything without confusing her.

She didn’t really know what to say after the story and we talked for a few minutes before she apologized for not having more to say. I assured her that it was fine. We don’t have to talk for long, but even little chats are nice. She can call me any time that she likes.

So I’m happy. My Nana called me today on a cellphone, probably the first time she’s ever asked someone to help her just call and talk to me since I’ve been an adult. My heart melted a little after we said goodbye because I didn’t hang up immediately – I listened to her try to figure out the buttons and finally call my grandmother because she didn’t know how to end the call. It was endearing in a classic changing-times way.

I encourage anyone to give their elderly family members a call, send a card or flowers, or just visit. And hug them. Shower them in quiet, affectionate hugs and touches that reassure them and give them strength. It makes a difference.

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