Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Legacy of a Special Needs Grandparent

Children's children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children are their fathers.
~ Proverbs 17:6, KJ21 ~

Heartache came to set up residency in my soul again a couple of weeks ago.  We had just concluded a much-needed one week vacation in the woods of Wisconsin, spending the last part of it fishing and relaxing with my parents and sister over Father's Day weekend.  The next day, my sister called me very early in the morning to announce that my father had fallen over in his kitchen.  She was following the ambulance to the hospital and asked if I might go stay with my mother who is disabled.  Having been through many medical emergencies, we thought this might just be another long hospital stay with more involved care.  But to our shock, a previously undiagnosed aneurysm gave us only a few hours to say goodbye. And while I am working through the heartbreak of suddenly losing a parent and a dear friend, I find myself more grateful for the many blessings that surround his life and death.

One of the things I'm most thankful for in regards to my dad was the steadfast grandparent he was, not only to his typical, but also his special needs grandchildren.  Of his 7 grandchildren, 4 of them have special needs.  While this is never easy, especially to men of his generation, my father went above and beyond in humble ways that few would ever outwardly notice.

He was a man of dutiful service.  "What can I do for ya?", was one of the phrases he was most known to utter.  To that end, he became a faithful volunteer for the Great Lakes Hemophilia Foundation when he learned that this was one way he could support his grandsons and the daughters who raised them.  He did thankless work like delivering fundraiser poinsettias and labeling newsletters to be mailed out.  Additionally, he opened his wallet to support programming like patient advocacy or sending kids to camp.  And his service went beyond formal organizations to reach out where he saw a need.  Even in his old age, he was willing to shoot hoops or play catch with a little girl who had an endless need to move.

He also attempted to understand things that were completely foreign to him.  Things like hemophilia, sensory processing disorder, and ADHD were not something that was common to people of his generation.  Discovering his grandchildren had things like this took him awhile to process, but once he had a general sense of what was happening, he was behind his family all the way.

In addition, he used humor and insights to edify his family.  When he saw his daughters or his grandkids getting discouraged in the daily living, he was quick with a joke or an admonition to hang in there.  He also had a great ability to see the assets each of these kids had rather than their deficits, recognizing talents whether they be academic achievement, athletic ability or just a nice personality.

And although he kept it to himself, he felt deeply the pain each of his children and grandchildren had to suffer.  I remember him once saying to me, "Boy, kid, if it weren't for bad luck, you'd have no luck at all!"  I also remember my son once being hospitalized and my dad having to get up to look out the window when my son screamed out in pain, fighting the staff over yet another needle jab.  It ripped his heart out.  When his family hurt, he hurt.

Service, understanding, humor, and compassion.  What more could you ask from a grandfather?  Fortunately, that is the type of grandparent my dad blessed his grandchildren with.  I pray no less for any other family who faces the challenges of raising a child with special needs!