By: Gail Wangenheim
Two-and-a-half years ago, my seven-year-old granddaughter, Liliana, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. In less than a day, I was on an airplane to Portland so that I could be there to support my daughter and son-in-law. The week that followed was a heart-wrenching experience for all of us. I stayed with Liliana as much as possible so that her parents could go through extensive education and instruction on what would be in store for them. I wanted to learn more about type 1, but I felt that there was time for that. It was more important that they became the experts, and I became the shoulder on which to lean.
Leaving the family at the end of the week was very difficult, even though we communicated frequently through trips, phone calls, and email. Needless to say, in a little more than a year my husband and I relocated to Portland, a decision that we have never regretted.
I found that my role as a mother changed very quickly. In the past I was always the educator of the family, free and easy with my advice (whether asked for or not.) But that role reversed very quickly, and I became the student as my daughter, son-in-law, and even my granddaughter became my teachers. This was not a difficult transition because I wanted to learn everything about the disease, and they were all so knowledgeable.
What I didn’t anticipate was the emotional side that is always there beneath the surface. However hard I try, I can’t erase the thought: “Why does this innocent little angel have to deal with this? Why can’t she just be a child?” I suppose this feeling will never go away, even though I know in my heart that this experience will shape the person she will become. I see it happening already, even at her young age of nine.
Living with type 1 has become an integral part of our family life. All of us, Liliana, her mom and dad, Liliana’s aunt, my husband, and I live it every day. We learn together, we share, we love.
My wish for all grandparents of children with type 1 is that you become an interactive member of the team. It is an important step for the entire family.