When their daughter-in-law became desperately ill--sick enough to be in the hospital for a week--Alice and Edward went into crisis mode: picking up and delivering the two small grandchildren to day care and bringing them home at the end of the day; feeding them; playing with them and putting them to bed. Their son--the dad--was around but he was also working and shuttling back and forth to see his wife and her doctors. It was a difficult time for everyone, especially since Alice and Edward work full time.
"This is what we do," Alice says, when a very tired Alice and I are sitting and having coffee. I agree. We are programmed to put our lives on hold and help out when we're needed--at least we are at this stage of our lives.
Or are we? The daughter-in-law's parents, who had lived many years abroad, had moved back last year to the city where their daughter was living. The father, who was with an international institution, was working full time but not the mother. Aside from visits to their daughter in the hospital, they were no where to be seen at the child-helping end of the equation. What had Alice really ticked off, though, was that her DIL's mother--the co-grandmother--left town in the midst of the crisis to visit another daughter so that the other daughter could take some time off. "If it were me," Alice says, "I would have called the other daughter and said, 'Your sister is seriously ill. I know you'll understand that I need to be here to help out. You'll have to find someone else to cover for you.'"
When the DIL's parents first moved back to this country, Alice was worried that she and Edward would seem dull and oh-so-ordinary--they hadn't lived in Indonesia or Japan; they hadn't entertained high level diplomats and important business leaders. If she felt any rivalry with her co-grandparents, that feeling had now morphed into resentment--that they weren't there to take on some of the burden rippling out from their daughter's illness, especially when it came to bringing aid and comfort to two toddlers.
Who knows why others don't feel compelled to drop everything and rush to the rescue of an ailing child and his or her family. Maybe they were waiting to be asked. Not everyone has the same code,feels the same closeness or believes they would be welcome and needed.
As for Alice and Edward, they have gotten their reward: Once the daughter-in-law was at home and recovering, their son took them aside, thanked them for being there and told them they were "really special." That says it all, doesn't it?