“…………and I’m going to miss you like a child misses their blanket. But I’ve got to get a move on with my life. It’s time to be a big girl now. And big girls don’t cry…..” As I sat in my car on the Hutchison River Parkway trying desperately to meet my grandfather, Ozzie, at Lawrence Hospital Center, in Bronxville, NY, the song by ‘Fergie’ was blasting on the radio. I glanced at the clock…2:55pm. Although my mom had spent almost a month at the hospital visiting my grandmother, on this particular day she had gone home to Washington D.C. Her plan was to return early the next morning, given my grandmother’s condition had begun to quickly deteriorate. Although I was working, and it was a Friday, I took the afternoon off to cover for my mom and be by Ozzie’s side until she could return.
When I stepped out of the elevator I could see Ozzie sitting in a room at the end of the hallway next to a closed curtain where, presumably, my grandmother lay being examined by the hospital medical staff. I paused for a moment and stared at him. His face was blank, as if he were deep in thought. After sixty-seven years of marriage to my grandmother, I couldn’t begin to imagine what he was going through. Before entering, I noticed a nurse stepping out and I figured I would check on how my grandmother was doing. At the age of ninety-two years old, my grandfather was not necessarily in any shape to assess his wife’s failing health.
“Excuse me?” I said to the nurse before she could pass me by. “Yes?” “I was wondering how my grandmother is doing? My parents will be back first thing tomorrow morning……..” “Your grandmother just passed a few minutes before 3pm today,” the nurse interjected immediately. “We are waiting for the doctor’s pronouncement.” In that moment, if I had been sitting, I would have fallen off my chair. “Does he know?” I said softly, pointing to my grandfather. “No, not yet.” I began to feel queasy. “You need to deliver this news,” I informed the nurse. “I will be there holding his hand, but I cannot be the one to tell him his wife has died.” To my relief, she nodded. We agreed I would take my grandfather out for coffee across the street from the hospital until the pronouncement was made, and then she would tell him the news that would shred his heart.
I needed to call my parents. “Pardon me. I have a final question. Can we keep her here until my parents return? As soon as they hear the news from me, I am sure they’ll be on their way, but it’s almost Shabbat and I am not sure I can reach my grandparents’ rabbi or the funeral home before nightfall.” The nurse turned to me, her face had softened. “I am sorry, dear. We don’t keep the deceased here at the hospital.”
In that moment, despite the fact that I had been a working professional, had been married for almost a decade and was raising three children, it occurred to me that I finally felt like a grown-up. Or so I thought at the time.
Do you ever think about the first time you felt like a “grown-up?” The first time the concept occurred to me was when we went over to my parents’ friends’ house. I was probably in ninth grade or so and my mom’s friend saw me, gave me a warm hug and said, “Meg! How have you been honey?” I proceeded to talk about myself…..school, homework, etc. And then suddenly, I felt a realization come over me. “How are you?” I asked. She was a writer. My mom’s friend instantly smiled and proceeded to tell me about something new she was working on.
In that moment my world, always revolving around my own experiences, thoughts and activities, had changed. Although I had forever been interested in the lives of my friends and what they were up to in any given moment, this level of curiosity had never extended outside of my generation. That simple act of asking an adult about herself was actually the first, small act of personal maturity that I can remember.
Last week a new Adam Sandler movie called, “Grown-Ups 2” was released. Upon hearing from friends who were dragged to see it by their teenagers that the movie was worse than awful, I easily skipped it. But there was that concept again, about being a “grown-up”. At first I thought I had reached grown-up status after I graduated from law school and started in the work force. I thought, “Now THIS is being grown-up.” But then when John and I got married and as I walked down the aisle watching him with anticipation, I changed my mind. Now THIS is when I felt grown-up. But then after I gave birth to Ethan and then Charlie, both of whom share my genetic condition, strangers would peek into their strollers and give me variety of (surprised) reactions to their very different hands. I received everything from, “What a beautiful son!” to simply an awkward smile. The latter ones were excruciating. Having to experience this level of stress: Now THIS must be what it is like to be all grown up.
Although all these moments may have been significant, it was only after my grandmother passed that I finally discovered what it really meant to be a grown up. After my grandmother died, my grandfather moved into a beautiful senior facility. Ethan was five, Charlie three, and Savanna not even two years old. I would bring all three of my kids to visit him, and it was there I received an unexpected gift, of sorts. Despite our blatant physical differences, none of the elderly residents at the facility cared what we looked like….at all. They simply loved the joy of having young children in their midst, even if we were there to visit my grandfather. With their long life experiences and various infirmities, they had clearly outgrown the need to judge others based on appearance. It was as if our deformities were invisible. Being there, although we were in public amongst strangers, I had never felt more at home. I felt completely free. I not only loved this feeling, I knew I didn’t want to lose it. But realistically, I also knew I could never contain my family to senior facilities, or an equivalent environment where no one judged our appearance. I knew that for me to lead my kids to be confident, unashamed individuals, I needed to live my life comfortable in my own skin, no matter what. They would follow my lead. It was up to us to set ourselves free from all the judgment, and I was certain the feeling would be divine.
Only nine months after my grandmother died, my grandfather passed, too. It was another incredible loss for our family. The day after his funeral, John, the kids and I were off to our annual family trip to Nantucket. It was on this vacation I made a decision that it was finally time to let go of my fears and flaunt, both for myself and my children. There was no alternative; no turning back. It was also on this vacation that I decided to start writing about my life experience and share it publically.
I had let go of my fears of what others thought of us. I had finally grown-up.