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WRITE TEAM: The ABCs of grandparenting when ill

Helen Laxner
Helen Laxner

Arthritis, bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are a few of the common ailments interrupting the way many grandparents interact with their grandchildren.

Pain, inflammation, and breathing difficulties limit a person’s mobility. In addition, other ailments or symptoms may limit a grandparent to more stationary activities. A trip to an amusement park might totally be out of the question. Even something seemingly as simple as “having a catch” might have to be cut short due to aggravating symptoms.

In December, my brother invited my 3-year-old granddaughter, Eva, and me to join his 3-year-old granddaughter, Audrey, and him on their trip to Florida. It sounded so wonderful. It would give me a chance to reconnect with my brother, whom I rarely see anymore since our homes are hours apart. It would give me the opportunity to get to know my great niece. And, most important to me was the opportunity to bond with Eva, who rarely gets any of my attention when we’re together because her brothers (my grandsons) have autism, and they cling to me the entire time I’m with them.

As we drove to Ohio to pick up Audrey, I envisioned watching Eva’s face as she experienced “It’s a Small World” in Magic Kingdom for the first time. I remembered feeling as if I were a little girl the first time I experienced it. I was 19 years old and every ounce of me tingled in awe.

After leaving Audrey’s house with both the girls in tow, we made four or five stops before arriving in South Carolina, where we planned to spend two nights before continuing on to Florida. However, with each stop we made, with each slight bend of my back as I removed Eva from her seat, my arthritis became more and more unbearable.

If there’s one thing my arthritis has taught me, it’s that most people (who don’t have it or those who feel minimal pain from it) can’t comprehend the severity of pain people like me feel. Therefore, I tried my best to grin and bear it. It was my brother’s vacation, after all.

It was dark and drizzling when we arrived at the timeshare in South Carolina. The girls were in their PJs and slippers so they would have to be carried in along with all our luggage and food. The thought of it made my eyes fill up with tears. I toted in Eva, went back out for a few light bags, and that was it. I could take no more.

Meanwhile, my brother and the girls have no idea I’m in pain. The girls try to pull me from room to room while my brother is getting aggravated I’m not helping him lug things in.

The next morning, I could barely move. If that wasn’t bad enough, I came down with a bad case of bronchitis with what likely included a touch of pneumonia. Somehow I managed to keep the girls occupied until we made it to Florida.

However, I never made it to Magic Kingdom or any of the other parks. Instead, I flew to my daughter’s house in Chicago to watch my grandsons while she and her husband flew to Florida to save the vacation and help my brother drive home when it was over.

Our next trip ... a Saturday matinee.

  • HELEN LAXNER lives in Granville. Her columns delve into issues affecting Americans and provoke thought to find solutions. She can be reached via

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