What adds special meaning to your life? Is there something that makes you smile just to think about? For us, it is our two young grandsons, ages four and one and a half. We are still fairly new at this grandparent game, having only been at it for four short years now, but have taken to it like a fish to water. The ups and downs of a life altering illness are difficult at best to navigate on a daily basis, especially with the uncertainty of LBD’s constant intrusions on what was once a full, rich life, rife with travel and outings with family and friends, filling our once busy social calendar. Even in the face of the harsh reality of a debilitating, degenerative condition, life is not all pain and suffering. Enter two bright little smiles, wide as the sea, brimming with love and excitement at visiting their Mimi and Papa (lovingly named by our oldest grandson, instead of the more traditional grandma and grandpa).

My husband no longer smiles often, as the ravages of his disease has robbed him of this very simple act. Once an automatic response to life, LBD patients seem to  have this natural ability inhibited. They don’t even realize it. His countenance is often droopy and sad appearing, or worse still-distant and not present, as though you could wave your hand in front of his absent expression, the blank stare, and never be noticed. But once the little ones burst through the door, excitedly calling  “Papa!” the unresponsive, other worldly expression on my husband’s  benign face begins to crumble,  replacing it with a quizzical look, gradually emerging into a  joyful grin, as the sweet sounds of their young voices call out to him, and his recognition gathers steam.

Children are God’s gift to us, and our grandchildren continually magnify that gift! We are blessed beyond belief to have these cherubs in our life. Thankful that they live a short drive away, our visits are often, boisterous and loving, filled with hugs, kisses, snuggles, and yes, occasionally defiance. The dreaded “No” word sneaks its way into some visits, often through the chiding and teasing of a toddler towards his grandmother-“Mimi”-me. Make no mistake about it, Papa is the hands down favorite of the younger grandchild. Ever since he was a babe in his Papa’s arms, he was clearly enamored with his grandfather, often reaching up his soft baby hands and caressing his Papa’s clean shaven face (which of course was always shaved just for this little tyke when he was due to arrive). So where does the “no” come in? Oh that’s when I ask the Papa’s little man for a kiss, and he unceremoniously  declares “NO!” and unabashedly races for his  Papa and plants a great big wet smooch on his cheek! What a tease! What a Papa’s boy!! What an ego booster for his Papa! How he brightens his Papa’s day! How could I complain?  The emergence of the loving expression that graces his Papa’s beaming face is all worth it!! I can only imagine the tender warmth that is instilled by this little one’s affection on his Papa’s soul. These are the times when I see my husband’s eyes bursting with tearful emotion. What a blessing.

The love and devotion shown my husband by our adoring little ones continually fills my husband with much needed pride and joy. He lamented over his diagnosis a year ago that the grandkids would begin to fear him, as his once able mind and body was obviously now failing him, and he feared he was frighteningly becoming a shadow of his former self. The day did come when the four year old point blank demanded an explanation from our son after watching his Papa struggle to walk and speak, as well as being fairly unresponsive to the flurry of playful activity surrounding his  Papa. With an unrelenting tone of insistence, filled with an incomprehensible  determination to get to the truth, he emphatically asserted, “Daddy, what is wrong with Papa?!” Our son took a deep breath, looked at me, then back to our grandson and quietly announced that “Papa is old.” Whether this is politically correct or not, does not matter. This basic explanation appeared as an eye-opening revelation to our young grandson, and an immediate understanding of his Papa’s struggles flooded his innocent, compassionate face. Pure and simple, without need for further explanation. For now, it is all that is needed.

The grandkids both race to help their Papa in times of need. It is both a blessing and hilarious to watch the littlest one step inside his Papa’s walker and stroll it over to him, then attempt to use it as a jungle gym. Pretty ingenious, really! He also loves to find his Papa’s canes and carry them over to him, all the while looking much like the littlest shepherd in a Christmas pageant-all he needs is the appropriate attire to make the look complete!!

The older grandchild helps open doors, gets whatever his Papa needs, and is in general my little helper when it comes to caring for his Papa. They do not fear him, life marches on; they both roll with the flow, and deal with life with their Papa and all that it entails. They are generous with their love and affection, always ready to share a laugh and a hug with their Papa. When he is at his best, their Papa nurtures their sense of humor with silliness and fun, like helping the littlest one put his socks “on” when the little guy is being a tad bit uncooperative. “Helping” by placing the socks on the little guys hands, not his feet…alway draws a giggle from the kids, and a lighthearted,  gentle admonishment from the older grandson, “Papa!!” (Always followed by much laughter from everyone). The mood is instantly changed and the little guy allows his Papa to actually put his socks on the correct way after a few “misguided attempts” by his Papa (on the ears, the head, the nose…). They love their Papa, and who could blame them? He is a great Papa, who loves his grandchildren dearly. I know they feel his love, and overlook his shortcomings these days. To them, he’s simply their Papa. They love him unconditionally. We should all love like a child.