Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.
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Fading with Age
This year La Lupe will turn 85. I’ve seen La Lupe through many different lenses during my life. When I was little, I saw her through the yelling-all-the-time-at-my-cousins-but-not-me-because-I’m-her-favorite lens. In college I began to appreciate her for more than just her great cooking. I began to appreciate her experience and wisdom. But then I started to make decisions that she didn’t necessarily agree with, so I saw her through an oh-this-is-what-it-feels-like-to-get-on-the-bad-side-of-La-Lupe lens. But I still appreciated where she was coming from. Now I can see her through my motherhood-makes-all-of-us-crazy-so-I-get-you-way-better-now lens. Every time we visit with La Lupe, my perspective of her changes a bit.
But now after so many years, La Lupe is finally starting to show signs of aging. Until recently her mind has been really sharp but we see some fuzziness starting to overcome her. She has been rock solid for so long that this turn of events has left me trying to figure out how to feel about it and how to act around her.
This year spending the holidays with her was wonderful but things were different. Her humor has begun to dim. All too often, as people age, bitterness and anger begin to creep into an otherwise joyful soul. I see this happening to La Lupe. I heard less fun gossip — like funny things my little cousins are doing — and heard more mean gossip. Complaining became the default during conversation rather than laughing.
When I stop and think about why this happens to older people, I can understand. As people age they feel less useful. And many times they are scared of finding a new meaning for their life. The useless feeling starts to make them depressed; then they get bitter and angry. While they still love their family, they just sit around stewing about problems or past injuries. This makes them more bitter, and they start to push away those who continue to love them and want to spend time with them. They begin to isolate themselves while telling themselves that other people are the ones leaving them out.
It is hard to see someone you love going through this. You want to shake them and tell them to snap out of it. You want to ask them why the love that you have for them isn’t enough to make them happy anymore. Why isn’t the time I spend with you joyful enough to light this dark place you are in? Why can’t you see how much everyone still loves you? Why can’t you understand that even if no one depends on you anymore that doesn’t make you useless? You love them for all the love they’ve shown you and you want them to realize that they can still show their love to others through any disability or handicap. You want to make them feel how much they are still worth in your eyes and the eyes of God.
Of course, not all our time with La Lupe was frustrating but it did have its moments. A few days before the end of our vacation, I stopped to think about everything that had happened on this trip. But instead of being eager for the last days to hurry and pass, I found myself still very sad to leave her. Just thinking about leaving made me miss her. And I sat and cried out of thankfulness that even in her present state, I’d still rather be with La Lupe than not.
La Lupe is still a force to be reckoned with. During the holidays we still had moments of laughing so hard we cried. Sometimes we would sit and talk and she would tell me the same stories she always tells, of her childhood, of raising her kids, and I felt home. Her love for us is still clear. She still showers us in hugs and kisses and blessings at every goodbye. She still broke down crying when we left. She still is La Lupe. And all I have to do is still love her even in this new stage of life we’ve reached. I can imagine all the imperfections and tough times she has seen her kids and grandkids through. She deserves the same unconditional love that she has shown others. In fact, that’s really all we can do, keep loving her and hope that she, deep down, knows how much she is loved.