Noticing What Counts

by Sean Kelly

My grandfather is 96 years old. Even though his name is Frank, we call him “Bobby.” He’s a lot slower and a lot quieter than what I remember growing up. He’s not as strong, not as determined in his opinions, and he’s not even saying his prayers every day like he did after my grandmother died almost 16 years ago.

He sleeps a lot, but not always during the night. He likes to get dressed every day, but it takes him a long time and he needs help. He likes to watch his grandkids and great-grandkids, although he often has to ask who they are, why they aren’t in bed and why they don’t have “proper shoes” on.

He loves to eat, although he doesn’t seem to remember old favorites, like snapper, steak and sardines. He loves to drink, but not the stuff that he was most famous for, his martinis and sidecars with my grandmother. He’s a lemonade and iced tea guy now. Lots of it. He loves being among friends, although he has only very few, and fewer still that he sees. He loves his family, although he often needs to be reminded of who’s connected to whom and what their names might be.

His vision and hearing are perfect, although his gait is slow and unsteady. His wisdom is deep and broad, although it’s difficult to perceive most times. He is dignified, although he needs help with almost every aspect of his life.

He loves and is proud of his family and relishes the deep relationships that he has with them even though so many of their roles now have evolved exclusively to caregiving. He loves and misses his wife, my grandmother (“Nana”), although he speaks of her less and less.

He is a doctor, but without a practice. He is a Navy man, without a fleet and comrades. Without realizing it, he is in a constant search for how to spend his days.

I was with my grandfather quite a lot this past Memorial Day weekend. He’s very, very sensitive to temperature, particularly the cold, and he’s got a spider’s sense for a breeze, however faint it might be. We were sitting side by side on Sunday and he was gazing outside, quietly, for a long time.

“That wind is really picking up out there,” he said to me, “I can feel it.” Then he said, “You see that chair rocking back and forth on the deck, that’s really some wind.” The chair was barely moving, but he was right, it was moving ever so slightly. It was a chair that he had bought, with me, for my grandmother, 30 years ago. I kept it. I reminded him of the day, the place and the purpose of him buying that chair. He looked for a while, and he smiled, a tiny bit, as tiny as that breeze blowing that chair. “Well, I guess that counts,” he said.

Yes indeed, Bobby, it counts, it all counts. I could only smile and nod. A chance to remember so many of the things that “count,” that we don’t often enough notice. It’s nice to notice, and some days, for many of us, it’s wildly important to notice what counts for us and for the people around us.

(originally posted June 1, 2017)

Single rocking chair on porch
Photo by Tolga Ahmetler on Unsplash