Made with Moxie: Teaching compassion

July 23, 2013

Teaching compassion

When I packed to spend a week in New York with my family earlier this month to celebrate the holiday, I packed us all funeral clothing. My grandfather, Dziadziu (Polish for grandfather, say Jaah-Joo), had been living in a senior living home with my grandmother. During the weeks prior to our trip, Dziadziu’s heath had rapidly declined. Hospice was called and his doctors said it could be days or weeks. No one knew. The next day when family visited him he was not only out of bed, but sitting at the dinner table with everyone else wolfing down chocolate creme pie.

The morning after we drove up to New York, I took my kids along with my mom to visit my grandparents. I anticipated that this trip would likely be the last time I would see him alive. When we arrived my grandmother was in the living room. The kids and I sat with her while my mom went to check on Dziadziu. We sat with my grandmother and played with the cards from the game Memory. While Jimmy and Jane enjoyed identifying the animals for my Grammy, there was an irony to it all. Grammy has Alzheimer’s and most days doesn’t know who we are. Regardless, her eyes light up to have children doting on her. The gave their best moos, oinks and baaahs, and rolled around the floor as only small kids can do and make you smile.

Only after my grandmother was looking tired did we walk down the hall to find my mother and Dziadziu. She stopped me at his bedroom door. Dzuadziu was in bed and dying, and my mother was worried that it would upset Jimmy and Jane. As much as I want to protect my kids from any unnecessary upset, I didn't want them learn that old people are scary. So many visits to the home my grandparents were in, taught me that the sick and old are left there. I never saw many other families visiting, even on holidays, so I always taught the kids to say hi, blow kisses and hold hands with everyone there whether we knew them or not. We’re everyone’s grandkids and great grandkids when we visit.

I gathered my kids into my arms and walked in. Dziadziu was in a hospital bed and gown. He was sedated and conscious, but unable to speak. My mother and aunt had been sitting and holding each of his hands to comfort him. They explained that he occasionally got upset and that physical touch helped him calm down. I took a seat next to his bed as my aunt left to call family to let them know that his passing was likely soon.

I explained to Jane and Jimmy that Dziadziu was having a Rough Day. In our house, when you’re sick, cranky, or upset, we say that you are having a Rough Day. When you’re having a Rough Day, the rest of the family is extra nice you you. We get drinks for you, we snuggle you up in blankies and read books to you, and sometimes the best solution for a Rough Day is a good nap. I told them we were helping Dziadziu because he wasn’t feeling well and was being a crankus (Moxie-ism) and we needed to help him take a nap. Any hint of awkwardness my kids felt at first washed away.

Teaching compassion to kids || Made with Moxie

With Jimmy in my lap and Jane next to me, I held Dziadziu’s hand and he laced his fingers between mine. I stroked his arm, kissed the back of his hand and held it to me cheek over and over again. When he became agitated,I rubbed his chest and told him everything was going to be okay, that he could just rest. The kids played with the Memory game cards again on the floor and periodically climbed on my lap and petted Dziadziu's hand. It was so sad to see, but I was glad we were giving Dziadziu as much comfort as possible.

After a while it became clear that the kids were hungry. We had been there for at least two hours so my husband picked us up to take us to lunch. I hugged Dziadziu and gave him a kiss. I stroked the hair on his head and told him I’d see him soon. While we were at lunch, he sat up, took his last breath, and died. His Rough Day was over and he was finally having the nap he needed.

Fast forward three weeks to yesterday. My kids have been sick and I swear there is a full moon. Or they have their periods. Or something, because they are both having Rough Days. Really Rough Days. There have been much fighting, many time outs and a boat load of frustration. By the end of dinner time I am just done. My husband takes Jimmy upstairs to get his jammies on while I sit with Jane as she slowly, slowly finishes her dinner. I put my elbows on the table, my head in my hands and a few tears rolled down my cheeks.

Jane gets out of her chair and before I can ask her where she thinks she is going, she is at my side. She asks me what is wrong and without thinking I tell her I am having a Rough Day. I worry.

“Like Jimmy and Jane is having a Rough Day today, Momma?” I tell her yes. Then she picks up my hand and tries to lace her fingers between my own. She uses her free hand to stroke my arm, kisses the back of my hand, and then bends over to rub my hand on her cheek. She tells me that she loves me and that it’s going to be okay. I burst into real tears and I scoop her up and squeeze her tight. These kids never cease to amaze me. The make me look like a good mother.