Why do we live in Wisconsin?

Dear MotionWorks family,

Spring is just around the corner (I promise!!), and with it all of the welcome sights of tulips and daffodils, and the grass greening up. This year our family took our first ever warm spring break trip, and then returned to that early April snowstorm! Sorry, we tried to bring the warm weather back- honest! Travelling to other places, especially in climates not like ours, it makes you wonder- why do we live here?! But then again, it reminds you of why we love to come home again. Maybe Wisconsinites like the changes in seasons better than we like warmth and hot temps year-round. Maybe we’re snow lovers… (hmmm, not really). Is it our family roots that keep us here, our Wisconsin traditions, or maybe just Wisconsin cheese and sausage, cool, crisp autumn football games? I like to think that the cold, dead of winter makes us appreciate the awe and beauty of the first warm spring day that much more. When it’s not warm year-round, you just can’t take a single nice day for granted, no matter what time of year it may be.

As part of our recent travels, our family was able to stop and visit with my grandmother Lillian. I have to admit, these visits have become harder and harder over the years, because my grandma doesn’t quite remember what she used to at the ripe old age of 99-1/2. Yes, maybe my expectations are high, but it wasn’t very long ago at all that this same grandma was leaving me in the dust on our walks and talks during my college years. And my friends thought that I walked fast! My Grandma was on a mission, everywhere she went. Working in her yard or garden, or going on her daily walks, slow was not on her speed dial.

I’ve always admired my Grandma for her wise, quiet ways, and rarely, her irritated quips at my grandpa back in the day. I can still hear my Grandpa’s laugh now, “Ha, ha, ha!” With his best German accent, followed by a few choice German words only Grandma understood. But what I loved most about my Grandma was our common loves of games. As quiet as my Grandma was, she surely was competitive. Our favorite was Rummakub, which required some in depth strategy and planning two moves ahead. Once I was able to beat Grandma, it was fairly rare during my college year visits that I would lose. But it never made her want to stop playing. We could play all night, even if she rarely beat me, she was mighty close every time.

Over the past five plus years, our Rummakub days were replaced by more mundane conversation about cousins, gardening, and the weather. These last few years, I’m not exactly sure Grandma knows who I am, much less the names of my husband and children. But that’s okay. She seems to clearly be delighted when I visit, perhaps I am someone she knows is familiar to her. This last visit was different than the others. This time, conversation was not an option. Grandma was focused on the 500-piece puzzle in front of her. Could we help her find this piece, or that piece? Sure, I was happy to help. Soon my kids were helping at all the corners of the puzzle. Even my seven-year-old was entranced. As most families with loved ones with dementia know well, visits can be a struggle, especially with three young children in tow, eager for some type of action or engagement to happen. This time though, was by far my best visit with my Grandma in years. She was in her element, and I found it very easy to join her. Our quiet work of finding puzzle pieces brought me back to a warm, familiar place. It reminded me of our quiet duels over Rummakub at her kitchen table, when minutes would melt into hours of comfortable silence. Even though the woman in front of me had clearly changed, this quiet feeling of a shared goal felt way more like quality time than any forced conversation from visits past. I savored the moment. Of all the people in the world, my Grandma forced me to re-discover the joy of peace, calm, and quiet, a conversation unencumbered by words. With my kids as engaged as I was around my uncle’s dining room table, this visit with Grandma kind of felt like magic. For the first time in a long time, I was truly sad to leave.

Maybe that’s why we live in Wisconsin. If everyday were filled with warm, golden sunshine, would we soak it in, as if it were our last? Would we take the time to visit that beach and collect those seashells every single day? I don’t think so.

Ours lives are just the same. If every day we lived was an easy sunset over the ocean, would we stop to appreciate the picture at all, or just drive on by? Better yet, when the most golden moment arrives unexpectedly, are we watching for it, engaging it, and recognizing it in the middle of our fast-paced, crossing items off the list kind of life? How many moments have I missed or taken for granted, because stopping to breathe for a moment was just too much time to take? In a fast-paced world ruled by technology, have we allowed technology to rule us instead of granting us time to pause from our everyday life?

I can’t wait to visit my Grandma again, whether in this life or the next. I look forward to putting my phone down, and quietly taking my place at the table, calmly searching the next puzzle piece. In fact, I just might have to start a puzzle right now, on our kitchen table, just to find that magic moment again, where every member of my family is peacefully focused on a common task, uninterrupted by the frivolities of our first world life.

Savoring each Moment,

Dr. Jill Murphy
Owner/Physical Therapist
MotionWorks Physical Therapy