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By TODAY show editor Sara Pines, a.k.a. Sandwich Mom

That is the simple wisdom delivered by our baby sitter today… as she came to take care of my 4-and-a-half-year-old daughter. I was on my way to work and we were telling her about our morning. We’d gone to visit my dad in a nursing home near us. He’s in the final throes of dementia. He doesn’t speak, can’t feed himself, can’t go to the bathroom or wash himself. It’s heartbreaking.

But my daughter Isabelle and I over the two years have developed a little ritual as he’s declined. We buy candy on the way to share with Gramps (today, popular choice, Gummi Bears.) On the bus uptown, she tells the lady sitting next to us that she’s going to visit her grandpa — “he’s in a nursing home, in a wheelchair,” she says very matter-of-factly — with no sense of the heartache that would make it hard for me to get the words out… even to a stranger on the bus.

When we get there, Daddy is in his usual place, in his wheelchair in the day room on a locked floor with all the other dementia patients. He’s quiet now… as opposed to what he was like even five years ago, when he was gregarious, warm, quick to laugh, generous with a hug or a handshake. Now, pretty much a blank stare… although if you bend down close to his face, he’ll pucker his lips for a kiss. And if you take his hand, he’ll hold on tight. The last vestiges of the social guy he once was.

So, we opened the candy and Isabelle checked out the color ratios (“Lots of reds today, Mama, Gramps likes the red ones.”) The math is easy for her… one for him, two for her, give or take. We gently hold them up to his lips and he takes them. It’s sad, but it’s something. A shared experience.

The women who work there love to make a fuss over Isabelle and she obliges with smiles and twirls. They start making preparations for lunch and Isabelle decides we should stay and feed Gramps lunch. The last time we did this, I could barely cut the food through my tears… but if she was game, I was game.

So, the food came… she buttered the bread… I cut the chicken… he ate pretty well. I didn’t cry, she was very sweet and encouraging… “That’s good, Gramps”… mimicking my words, “Here you go, sweetie.” That’s what I would say when I was feeding her not too long ago, “here you go, sweetie.” Full circle, I think.

As we were going down in the elevator, I told her how proud I was of how helpful and kind she was to Gramps. Does she understand what a gift it is, to hold his hand without any words? To feed someone who used to love to tuck into any meal? I’m glad she’s really just grown up with the visits being a matter of course every couple of weeks. No big deal.

Of course, for me, it is. She is blossoming as my father is withering. He will never get to enjoy her the way I know he would have… reveling in her enthusiasm for life, her smile, her laughter, her accomplishments. All these thoughts and emotions are rattling around in my brain and heart on the way home.

And then our baby sitter… the ever-practical, warm and loving woman from the Caribbean… delivers her simple and comforting wisdom, “That’s the way it is, Sara, once a man, twice a child.”

Yes, I think, it is.

I know it.

I see it.

I feel it.