Don't let distance become a barrier to the love of my grandfather
July 5, 2006 7:14 PM   Subscribe

My seventy-seven year old grandfather, maker of pierogies and violins, will have his bladder removed this Friday to help stop the spread of cancer. What can I do to keep him positive?

Details: He's out west and I'm out east He's not alone as his lifelong wife and several of his sons and a daughter will be there with him, but I'm so far away. I saw him less than two months ago but that was before any of this happened.

If I phone him what should I say? If I send something what should it be? I'm open to everything.
posted by furtive to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I hope all goes well with your grandfather's surgery. I definitely think you should call him, and order some flowers or a plant to be sent to his hospital room for when he's recovering.

As for what you should say when you call, just let him know that you love him & are thinking about him & will be in touch while he is recovering.

There's not much you can really do to make someone happy about the fact that they are having surgery & that they have a serious illness, but I know that relatives, especially grandparents, thrive on knowing that their children and grandchildren are thinking of them and love them. Just showing that you care by calling and sending something cheerful to his room will do that.

I know it's hard, especially if you do not talk to him often, but it could make all the difference in his outlook and really brighten his week.
posted by tastybrains at 7:21 PM on July 5, 2006

the red violin?
posted by specialk420 at 7:22 PM on July 5, 2006

Let him be negative if he needs to be negative. It may be less of an issue for men, actually, but many women I've talked to who have had cancer were most depressed by always having to put on a happy face to reassure the people around them, or from clueless but well-meaning people telling them they had to stay positive or risk getting worse.

I think it's best to ask how he's feeling. If he gives you an automatic "Fine," then maybe push it to one more open-ended question, but then let it drop if he'd rather talk about something other than his health. The men in my family do not ever want to share their emotional states with me (though they're sometimes more open about their physical health), and I've found the best way to support them is just to check in and treat them as normally as possible when they're down. Laughter is always good.

If he does want to talk about it, just let him talk. Validate his feelings. He may be scared, frustrated, hurting, or tired. If he's any of those things, don't tell him to cheer up or stay positive or in any way imply that what he's feeling is somehow wrong or bad for him. Let him know you love him and are willing to talk to him even when he's down.

I'm sorry you're going with this. Good thoughts to you and your family.
posted by occhiblu at 7:25 PM on July 5, 2006

...going through this, that is.
posted by occhiblu at 7:26 PM on July 5, 2006

The last thing he wants to do is talk about the ordeal and how it's affecting his normal routine and what it means. Tell him you're thinking of him and that he has meant a lot to your life (and a bit of how), and then tell him about your life lately.

I bet he just wants to know that you're doing well and that you'll continue to do well with or without him -- he's likely a lot more upset by not being able to be there for the people he has always been able to than he is for himself.
posted by kcm at 7:37 PM on July 5, 2006

That is to say.. it's really hard to understand what it means to want to not have your family worried about you while you confront your mortality. It's nice to hear it out loud that you're thinking of him, but reiterating over and over that you're worried and upset isn't what he needs to hear. He's had a good life, and it means a lot to know those you brought into this world will have a great life of their own .. plus it's a lot less stress to only hear about how people are depending on you to pull through and all that.

Everyone's different, but that's my take.
posted by kcm at 7:43 PM on July 5, 2006

er.. it's pretty stressful to only hear over and over that everyone you talk to is scared and worried.. he needs a little normalcy, he can take care of the worrying on his own.
posted by kcm at 7:44 PM on July 5, 2006

Staying in touch and showing concern, as you are doing, is always good in a situation like this. Beyond that, a lot depends on the particulars of the situation and how your grandfather is reacting to it. You mention trying to stop the spread of cancer; is this a realistic attempt at a cure or a way to minimize the symptoms for a time; in medical terms, is his surgery curative or palliative? Trying to be positive and keep hm upbeat is good, but it is important to be realistic.

If you cannot be there in person for the surgery, keep in mind that those who are there may be stressed out with no way to deal with it. If you can visit some time in the near future you may be just in time to relieve the relatives who have been there and are getting burned out. If not, anything that helps with day to day life will be greatly apppreciated. Food is the traditional way to do this, but things like hiring a cleaning service or a cab company to provide transportation are potentially useful depending on what your grandfather/family's needs are.

Finally, your grandfather probably comes from an era where letters were highly valued. Most patients recovering from surgery are capable of reading if nothing else, and a handwritten letter from you would be far more meaningful than the latest best-selling memoir. In short, keep in touch without being overbearing, and look for opportunities to help out in ways others might not consider.
posted by TedW at 7:48 PM on July 5, 2006

Yes. After reading kcm's first post, I realized that while you shouldn't force him to stay upbeat, it's great if you yourself can do so. Not in a forced Mary Sunshine "It'll all be GREAT!!!! NO WORRIES!!!!" sort of way, just not dumping all your worries on him right now.
posted by occhiblu at 7:50 PM on July 5, 2006

I think keeping him positive is too tall an order for you - or anyone, really. If it's anyone's responsibility to bear that enormous burden, it's his own and no one else's.

That said, what you can do is speak to him on the phone, relate to him, listen actively to him and converse with him - if he wants it. He probably will.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:31 PM on July 5, 2006

I know a guy who had his bladder removed for the cancer and replaced with a sac constructed from one or another piece of flesh available in the region.

There are two cool facets to this besides the general bionic nature of the thing: He now has several times the urine capacity of a normal man, and, since those nerves are gone, never feels the urge to urinate, although apparently he still has control over it. If your grandfather's getting similar surgery, maybe those pieces of news will cheer him up.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:35 PM on July 5, 2006

I always found that nothing perks up my elderly relatives like reminiscing about the past. Start with things you and he both remember (your childhood) and then get him to move onto things from his past (courting your grandmother, his experiences in the war, how technology has changed since he was young). They get to remember the good old days (while forgetting the present, temporarily) and they get to impart some of their wisdom to you - two things all of my grandparents have loved.

I'll also second writing him a letter.

I hope everything goes as well as conceivably possible for him.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:19 PM on July 5, 2006

I can't top the excellent advice already given, and this is an incredibly random and crazy idea and forgive me if it seems inappropriate, but if he makes violins he's probably a true music is there any way you could pay for someone (a local musician) to play something for him live, in his hospital room? Wouldn't have to be long or loud - it's the thought of you arranging it for him as a 'I'm thinking of you and am there, even if I'm not 'there' ' that I'm going for. Maybe you can find some violinists in the Yellow Pages, or at least a musician's union of some sort...?

let us know how it goes...good luck...
posted by rmm at 10:04 PM on July 5, 2006

The music idea is an excellent one. At our hospital we have a program for local musicians (usually playing harp or classical guitar) to play in various places throughout the hospital. It is really calming for both patients and staff. If your grandfather's hospital has a similar program perhaps you could work with it to see that he gets some music during his hospital stay.
posted by TedW at 4:13 AM on July 6, 2006

I don't know if this will help, but my father had this surgery recently. Before the surgery, he had long been irritable and tired, and because of his inability to go without a bathroom for much more than an hour, disinclined to go anywhere or do anything.

Since the surgery, everything about this life is improved. He's happier, healthier and more willing to do stuff than any time in recent memory. It seems odd that he had a pretty bad run in with cancer, lost an entire body part and came up of it better than new, but that's my assessment.

He does have to deal with not having a bladder, which involves some slightly icky things - the ostomy bags are not fun. But it seems to not bother him very much, and it doesn't stop him from doing anything in particular. Plus, it's cured me of life long habit of smacking him in the stomache, for which he's no doubt grateful.

Also, this Ostomy book is really excellent. It's kind of funny and light, but really informative and helpful. Perhaps sending him a copy (get yourself one, too, it might help you stress less) would help?
posted by jacquilynne at 6:06 AM on July 6, 2006

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