Grandparent grief is often overlooked, as many people were not lucky enough to know their grandparents or to be close to them, so they don’t understand your loss. For those who were close, grieving for your grandparents is very real and can be a very tough time. Our reader Athena Bryant shares a moving story of the loss of her grandma and grandpa.
My grandparents lived on the beach of a bay in Washington, a perfect setting for childhood. Summers were idyllic, wandering with bare feet through the grass and dirt and eating sun ripened blackberries. I would follow Grandma through her garden, with a cooling saltwater breeze passing over us. Grandpa would be working in the garage, with tools handy to fix anything or fashion a thingamigger for us to use as we came up with inventive ways to build forts, rafts, or anything.
Fall would come and Grandma and Grandpa would be at every school event from plays, concerts, and sports. They would be there, for all of us, with proud smiles and the first to cheer along with our parents.
During Winter, the outside wind would blow over the choppy waters and rush upon the house, making the chimney whistle. But, inside we were warm and baking in the kitchen, or tucked under a shared blanket on the sofa reading or watching a movie. On many occasions bowls would be filled with ice cream and we would settle around the kitchen table to play cards.
As us grandchildren grew older, we all left home, travelled, went to college, and started our own lives. Grandma and Grandpa remained the anchor that brought us wanderers back to one place during the holidays.
Grandpa fell ill and in the time leading up to his passing, I was profoundly moved by the love in my family. It was painful to see the strong, vibrant, quick-witted man fade before us. We were all each other's support. Grandma carried herself with grace and. When Grandpa passed away it was a deep loss. Grandma remained the constant for us, providing updates on family, checking in on us and always having a room available for an overnight visit.
Across the distance I would call her and she would answer. When I would visit, we would share conversation over a bowl of ice cream or have long conversations in her garden, watching the day turn into twilight.
As I grew into being a wife and a mother, my Grandma started to relate to me more as a fellow woman. She shared stories and experiences, I had never heard before. She encouraged me. She believed in me.
I went through a divorce, and my grandmother who had been a single mother of 3 before marrying my grandfather, was an immense support. She understood. She listened. When I faced new challenges I would pick up the phone and call her. She always answered on the last ring, right before it went to voicemail. She always knew the right thing to say. Sometimes she said things I didn't want to hear, but I needed to hear, and I probably wouldn't have been able to handle it from anyone but her.
Then she got sick, and wasn’t going to recover. When she was sick, I sat with her. It felt familiar, like the times we would spend in silence before, but we knew it was one of our last times.
I sat holding her hand and she said she hoped she had taught me something. How could I, in a single moment possibly express everything she taught me? I wish I had been more eloquent and expressive. But the only words that would pass over the lump in my throat were, “Grandma, you taught me to believe in myself.” She closed her eyes, nodded and squeezed my hand. It was our last conversation together.
The days around her death and following and the funeral were hazy. I was living outside of myself with my being stopped in the life changing moment of losing her, yet around me life continued on in a blur.
I continued on with raising my children and went back to work. Life began to feel strangely normal. Then one day, after feeling tired and in need of encouragement, I reached for my phone and pulled up her number. Without thinking. I stared at her number and disbelief overcame me that I couldn’t call her. There would be no warm voice at the end of the line.
I cried. And then I prayed. I prayed and spoke to my Grandma. For the first time, I couldn't talk to her in person, but I felt like I was talking to her spirit. I was recalling so many memories of her very full life and the challenges she faced and overcame. I asked her, “How can I do what you did so well? How do I make this, my life, work? I don’t know what to do anymore”
And whether it was my knowledge of her, or it was her spirit inspiring me, I felt a reply resounding through my soul, “Don’t live my life, remember what I’ve taught you, and then go live your life with your own story to tell.” And as I continue the journey, creating my own story to tell, her unconditional love continues to guide me.
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