When people say the things that make all of us with diabetes cringe – you know, the “are you allowed to eat that” type of comments-I try as often as I can to make it an educational moment. Yes it’s annoying and frustrating and stereotyping and I don’t always get through it with a smile on my face but I try to make something good out of it.
There is, however, one person on this planet that I don’t try to explain anything to. And I actually let her say whatever she wants to me about diabetes. I let her look at my plate and say “You mustn’t eat that.” I don’t bat an eye when she says to a waiter “We won’t be having dessert, she’s a diabetic.” I don’t flinch when she says “your hair is thin because you have diabetes” (never mind the fact that I have my mom’s fine locks while both my sisters have the thick, gorgeous strands my dad had). Nope, I don’t say anything to this person and in fact, I usually smile and say “You’re right.” It’s because the person is my 94-year-old grandma, and at this juncture in her life, she’s earned the right to say just about anything she wants. She’s from a different era with diabetes. One where folks were truly restricted in their diet, lifestyle, activities, and dreams. They didn’t have CGMs and pumps and analog insulin when she was growing up.
I visited her this weekend out in Pennsylvania. She had to move out of an apartment in her assisted living facility into a much smaller space where they can keep a closer eye on her. It was a crazy weekend and a huge job get her moved and settled and cleaning out 94 years worth of newspaper clippings, my father’s old report cards, a million family photos and a million and one cookbooks. When I could steal away with her to the funny little cafe at her place to order some reduced-sodium soup and decide between baked chicken or baked salmon, we had some time to laugh, to catch up, talk about her life and hear stories from her past. Time to forget what was really on her mind: the depression of getting old and realizing that you need a lot of help now after a lifetime of independence.
She’s an incredibly interesting person with a fascinating and sometimes tragic past, and still has a sense of humor after everything she’s been through. She’s having a tough time with this move, and I can only imagine how that must feel. After 94 years of doing everything on your own and now having to be so dependent on others…it can’t be easy. As whirlwind as the weekend was, I felt so lucky to get to spend time with her. She’s always lived too far away. Despite our requests to move her West, she’s always declined and stayed in the little town she raised her family. It’s home to her, and it’s where she wants to be always, in this life and after.
After our main meal on Saturday, the waiter wheeled the dessert cart over to us. My Grandma waved him on as usual, letting him know her diabetic grand-daughter wasn’t allowed such things. The waiter said he had a sugar-free peach pie if we’d like to try it. My Grandma looked at me and said “Well that you can have. Why don’t we share it?” I nodded.
The waiter placed a slice of pie in front of us that no doubt contained a whole mess of carbs. A “sugar-free” pie as we all know is anything but. The filling was canned fruit swimming in syrup, and a thick crust that I suppose could have been made with Splenda, but not without flour. I bolused discreetly under the table and took a bite from one side while my Grandma dug her fork in the other.
“Mmmmm!” I said and smiled. “It’s delicious!”
“It really is!” replied my Grandma.
And it was. It was really delicious. And in her mind at least, totally “allowed.”