Grandparents of the year: Why we gave up everything to support our children and grandchildren

Sheryll and Steve have twice packed up their lives and moved to support their daughters through tough times.

By Julie Jacobson
When Sarah Crawford was diagnosed with leukaemia two days before Christmas, her parents Sheryll and Steve didn't hesitate.
They packed up their lives in Ohakune and moved to Manawatu to help look after her and their oldest grandson, nine-year-old Cade.
That was in 2015. Two weeks ago, they did the same thing again, this time moving to Tauranga to support eldest daughter Kylie-Maree and their other three grand-sons after the tragic death of their dad Logan Gemming in a kitesurfing accident.
"They are the most supportive, amazing, loving parents and grandparents that anyone could ever ask for," says Sarah.
It's that unconditional love and selflessness that has seen the couple deservedly named winners of the Weekly's Grandparents of the Year − in association with Ryman Healthcare − competition.
Sheryll says "We are very humbled and appreciative to have won the competition".
Sheryll and Steve met at Fitzherbert Young Farmers Club, Palmerston North, in 1976. The relationship blossomed
and they married in 1978.
They had Kylie-Maree in 1981 followed by Sarah in 1983.
The early years were a whirlwind of Brownies, music and sports practice – both daughters played netball and hockey, and were competitive swimmers while Sheryll and Steve were instrumental in setting up Manawatu's Ice Breakers swimming club.
The couple were unaware Sarah had nominated them for the national award until she told them they had won.
"Dad's a very humble man," tells Sarah. "So when I mentioned it to him, he said, 'Oh, thank you very much' and off he went. That's Dad to a tee!"
In her citation, Sarah describes how Sheryll (60) and Steve (64) put all thoughts of themselves aside when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia.
"I had previously had cervical cancer, which ended in a hysterectomy, then thyroid cancer. I needed two lots of radioactive iodine treatment for that and it was that treatment which gave me leukaemia.
"I had two rounds of chemo in Palmerston North Hospital before going to Wellington for a stem cell transplant.
"My parents chucked in their jobs – they were managing a motel in Ohakune − and moved to the Manawatu so they could look after me. My dad lived with my partner Matt, and helped with my son Cade while my mum came to Wellington with me and never left my side."
Steve – Poppy or Goppy to his grandchildren − would read Cade bedtime stories and help with household chores, such as school lunches – Matt also has two children, Ella (13) and Joel (11). Cade's dad Cameron Locke was also on hand.
Meanwhile, Sheryll − known as Nanny or Nammy − was in Wellington, "camping out" at the Cancer Society's Margaret Stewart House for the entire 75 days Sarah received treatment.
"I didn't like the hospital food," says Sarah.
"Every night, my mum would cook us dinner and bring it over to the hospital. She took my washing home every day, then brought it back clean and dry the next morning.
"She worked tirelessly day and night to look after me, even sleeping some nights in the la-Z-boy in my hospital room as I was too scared to be alone. They have remained in Manawatu and helped out since I have been home too. Poppy has never missed one of my son's rugby games; he's been out there in the wet and cold every Saturday cheering him on."
When Sarah (far left) was ill, Steve and Sheryll stepped in for her and Cade.
But if that wasn't enough of an upheaval, there was more to come.
Steve was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year and had his prostate removed in November.
Then, just two months later, the family's world was again turned upside down when Kylie-Maree's teacher husband Logan was killed, leaving their wee boys, Fergus (8), Fletcher (5) and Eaton (3) without a dad.
Sheryll and Steve didn't hesitate, offering love and support to their daughter and grandchildren in the only way they knew how.
"They didn't think twice," says Sarah, "but what a huge thing it was to once again chuck in their jobs and sell their home to help out.
"At a time in their lives where they should probably be slowing down, they are doing the opposite. They are amazing grandparents and have been dealt such a tough hand over the last few years."
Sheryll admits she and Steve were surprised and proud when they found out that Sarah had nominated them for the award, but firmly believes what they have done is what any parent or grandparent would do.
"There are no options when it is your family, when it's your children and grandchildren that are hurting and need support," she says.
"We are very humbled and appreciative to have won the competition. We are so proud of our daughters, and are continually amazed at how they have been dealing with the circumstances they and their children have found themselves in.
"Steve and I love being grandparents to our four lovely grandsons and two step-grandchildren. Being a grandparent is an opportunity to help support the parents with the upbringing of them and share in their milestones.
"Grandparents are able to teach children about different sorts of love and sharing while keeping yourselves young
as well. We enjoy being able to act as a child again, without feeling silly."
Still, it's been extremely difficult watching their children and grandchildren go through what they have, she tells.
"Life is very hard at times, but you have to make the best of what you have and go forward just living one day at a time."
Sarah told us in her submission, "Life sure has been challenging, but through it all, they have smiled and never once shown their pain. I think they are grandparents of the year and it would be so cool to see them win this awesome prize."
We thought so too!
The doting grandparents say it's hard seeing your kids struggle through illness.

The Judges say:

Choosing this year's winners was an incredibly difficult task given the phenomenal number of wonderful entries the Weekly received.
The judging panel includes editor Alice O'Connell, columnist (and grandmother!) Kerre McIvor and Ryman Healthcare's Debbie McClure, who recently welcomed her first grandchild.
It was a tough job reading through the heartfelt entries – "there were definitely tears!" says Kerre – but the judges awarded Sheryll and Steve the overall Grandparents of the Year title.
"I agonised over choosing," tells Debbie. "Sheryll and Steve got me with the way they just pick themselves up and move where they are needed, but they were all so special!"
Alice says the entries were of a particularly high standard this year, but the big-hearted Crawfords won her over."What struck me about Steve and Sheryll was how surprised and incredulous they were to win. Despite everything they have been through as a family, and so selflessly sacrificed for their children and grandchildren, they don't see themselves as doing anything out of the ordinary or needing any recognition. It's just what they do and who they are.
"I'm so pleased we were able to give their children and grandchildren the opportunity to show the rest of New Zealand just how special they really are!"

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