Grandma’s Pain

Here we are now with the falling sky and the rain
Here we are now with the desperate youth and the pain
We’re awakening!
(Switchfoot, Awakening, from the Oh! Gravity. album)

My grandparents were recently over from our hometown on one of their regular check-on-our-offspring-in-Lagos trips. That, for me, always means mixed feelings: on one hand the knowledge that we are going to have the inevitable sharp disagreements (on what to me should be non-issues), and on the other anticipation of the sheer delight of seeing them again (I do like them, after all). It’s at times like the former that I sometimes nurse the rather uncharitable thought that I’d best put up with them, since they won’t be around much longer.

This time I was home when they arrived in their new car (second-hand, actually, but you know how it is): a 1999 Honda Accord (manual transmission; in conjunction with Grandpa’s arthritis, that’s expected to prevent the ever-looming possibility that the man might decide to drive it himself). He was first out, sprightly as he could manage—the arthritis is much better now, thank God—but Grandma, on the other hand seemed to be taking her time, and I remember thinking, “Here we go again.”

She did come out, soon enough, although hobbled would probably better describe the manner of her emergence. I’d known for awhile that the old lady’s got a worse arthritis than her husband, but unlike his (more severe than any she’s ever had), hers has lasted far longer (her weight—she’s obese—doesn’t help). And it’s not like her pain is a small matter either.

Over the next few days, I watched her struggle with her knees. To her credit, she didn’t complain much, but you’d be obtuse not to easily tell she was having it bad. Merely rising from a chair was a chore, and performed just as carefully. Walking around was a pre-planned event, with the unchanging aim of fully optimising every metre gained. And every now and again, I’d see her pop a painkiller, even as she complained that what relief they offered was too brief.

Once, thinking about her pain-filled life, it occurred to me that most of her waking thoughts were probably pain-related: I didn’t see how it could be otherwise—pain, I find, has a way of refusing to be ignored. Now, although my friends with sickle cell disorder tell me pain is part of their daily existence (one said to me once, “There’s almost always some pain, but you kind of get used to it—if I show it, it’s bad”), still I think people like Grandma really have it bad more often than not. (And unlike my friend, she hasn’t had a whole lot of time to “get used to it.”)

I did begin to think more charitably of her after that. I admired her courage anew, realising I was getting a glimpse into how she was able to raise the quality of children she had (if I say so myself), and why Grandpa’s affection for her remains so strong after all these years.

And I have new appreciation for my youth—what’s left of it. I don’t live with pain like Grandma does, but really, how long have I got?


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