Understanding the meaning of a “better half” – The Cavalier Daily
About a month ago, I surprised my grandmother and grandfather — Grammy and Grandaddy — in Medford, Oregon, for Grammy’s 89th birthday. Since the start of the pandemic, I haven’t been able to see my extended family – a family that I typically see at least four times a year. This experience of distance and nostalgia has not been easy for anyone, but I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I was finally able to sneak out of Charlottesville and spend this precious time with my family. Although it pains me to think this way, I know that these moments are precious and, now more than ever, this time is truly and beautifully essential.
Ever since I was much younger, I’ve found comic relief watching the dynamics of my Grammy and Grandaddy, an unlikely pair that complement each other in many ways and clash in others. Grandpa, G-papa as his great-grandchildren call him, is a prankster, always ready to make a witty remark, a “hey gorgeous” kind of thing when you wake up in the morning, and a yodel. silly to make his many grandchildren laugh. He knows how to burst my bubble and give just the right amount of heartache – I love his honesty and balanced ability to be so with love and laughter. My Grammy, on the other hand, isn’t always one to crack jokes. Where others find grandpa jokes goofy and endearing, Grammy can’t help but salute them with a “Ken!” agitated as she shakes her head and mumbles under her breath. Rather than take anything too much to heart, Grandpa pushes her away, kisses her hand, and single-handedly absolves Grammy of the grief he’s giving everyone.
To complicate matters further, Grammy is nearly deaf and Grandaddy is legally blind – they take the meaning of “other half” to a whole new level. In many ways, even when they don’t see or hear eye to eye, they are each other’s greatest asset. Just as Grandpa takes the time to ask others to speak up or make sure Grammy’s hearing aids are working properly, Grammy gently whispers, “Can Ken see?” as we all huddle around a photo on my iPhone. While it might seem like these disparate disabilities are probably the source of their conflict, I’ve found that it binds them together in a special way.
While G-daddy’s humor can really ruffle Grammy’s feathers, on my last trip to Oregon, I noticed their bond only grew stronger after two years of strict confinement. As Grammy grows more fragile, Grandaddy’s loyalty and care have remained unwavering. Despite his poor ability to see, he insists on making smoothies for her in the morning and helping her with various tasks throughout the day. His greatest value to her, however, comes in the form of emotional care and empathy. Because Grandpa has no trouble keeping up with the many conversations his kids and grandkids have around the kitchen table — we really try to keep up — he often sits next to Grammy’s. She’s relaxed when he’s around, and it’s obvious that by staying home, she’s solidified her true home in him.
On the last day of my February visit to Medford, celebrating Grammy’s birthday with her five children, five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren left her grateful but overwhelmed. It took her about an hour to fully realize that her whole family was on the lawn together and, showered with love, Grammy struggled to tell the many voices apart from each other. However, she settled in, and after the celebration was over, Grammy and Grandaddy sat together in her bedroom lounge chair facing the television. Although they didn’t know I was watching from the doorway, I silently listened to their conversation – Grammy and Grandaddy sat in amazement, thinking of the lawn full of humans they had created.
In a slightly rarer moment, I saw Grammy take Grandpa’s hand, kiss it gently, and smile adoringly at him. He could barely see her, and she could barely hear him, but their love was more evident to me than ever. He nodded at the TV, asking Grammy, “is your boy on?”, referencing his longtime crush, golfer Jordan Speith. She replied, “Oh, please leave it on!” And they spent the afternoon – Grandpa on Grammy’s walker and Grammy in his chair – hand in hand, watching golf together.