Holidays, Grandparents and Gratitude

I still remember when the only thing I really wanted for Christmas was a new set of green army men, when TV sets had vertical and horizontal controls, when the only physical challenge I had was a scraped knee after a roller skating crash. It’s a cliché to say it seems like yesterday, but guess what? It seems like yesterday!

Remembering past holidays

Our family of five lived in a small brick row house in Philadelphia, about fifteen minutes from center city. My father, a WWII Navy veteran, was a fireman, and my mother, who was born in Scotland of Irish parents, was a housewife. In the ’50s, newer used cars and a week at the Jersey shore or in the Poconos were the luxuries in our family life and the extent of our travel experience.

We alternated hosting grandparents for the holidays: my mother’s parents, the O’Neills, for Thanksgiving, and my father’s parents, the Joneses, for Christmas. It was a tight fit getting seven of us seated at the table in our tiny dining room. My Irish grandfather, James, sang Irish songs and recited poetry in a thick brogue. My Irish grandmother, Mary Ann, liked to eat the neck meat on the turkey. My Jones grandfather, Jack, drank and didn’t say much, but smiled a lot. My Jones grandmother, Mary, baked the best pies I’ve ever tasted.

The losses and joys my family shared

The losses started in the ’60s: first Jack, at 63, from too many Pall Malls and the liquid in his glass; then, in the seventies, James, 87, from heart failure; Mary, 77, from cancer; and finally, in 1993, Mary Ann, 104, from heart failure. Her maiden name was Brady. We named our youngest son Brady in 1989, the year Nana O’Neill turned 100. My father passed in 1999 from heart failure and my mother in 2009 from complications of dementia.

We also are a family of five - my wife, Melinda, our three adult sons, Devin, Willie and Brady, and me – expanded to eight now with the arrival of three grandchildren: Saskia, Kiran, and Ryah. Two new generations making memories of holidays and vacations, parents and grandparents. Already our sons have lost their grandparents, but, happily, their parents live on to share life with them and spoil their children. That’s what grandparents do.

Becoming my grandparents

Having recently turned 70, I reflect on the family history because, just like that, I’ve become my grandparents, who seemed ancient when they were 60! In many ways our lives couldn’t be different – education, prosperity, travel, exercise – and yet aging brings the same challenges to everyone, and genes will be genes.

I’m on medication for coronary artery disease. I have two stents and I’ve had one heart attack. I’ve had prostate cancer and surgery to, I hope, cure it. I’ve benefited from technology not available in the last century. I’m not counting on 104, but I’ll take 90 if I can get it. By then my youngest son will be 50, the age I was when my father died. Brady deserves to have a dad until he’s 50.

Thankful this holiday season

Turning 70 was a relief. I made it, I’m past it, let’s move on with my good life as a husband, father, grandfather, and friend to many. Having prostate cancer has led to becoming a member of a wonderful community, both Health Union and It’s given me an opportunity to share my experience and possibly help others. Thanks to the internet, I get to be of service in ways my grandparents couldn’t imagine. Many blessings, much gratitude.

Happy holidays to everyone at Health Union and, and to everyone who drops in to visit our community. And best wishes to all for a healthy New Year!

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