Love’s Echoes

My grandfather died four months ago today. I miss him. But in a way he’s still here. Every day I’m reminded of him in the way that love subtly announces its presence.  He is the reason this blog exists. My Granddad loved telling stories and in doing so made me into a storyteller. So in writing this I’m remembering him, remembering the roots of my family.

Though my children will never have the opportunity to know my Granddad as well as I did, he has a profound effect on their lives. My grandparents were present for every major and minor event in our lives. They accompanied my family on trips, but my Gran and Granddad also took my sister and me on trips. I remember on a drive to the States when my grandfather handed a grim faced border guard a notarized letter from a lawyer stating that he and my Gran had permission to take my sister and me out of the country.

Before my son was born, I talked about my relationship with my grandparents to my in-laws often. My husband didn’t have that same depth of relationship with his grandparents. Part of that was age; my grandparents were young when I was born. Part of it was distance; my grandparents lived close. And also a question of fairly dividing attention; until I was sixteen, it was just my sister and myself on the one side whereas Tex has many cousins. There wasn’t precedent in my husband’s family for that kind of grandparent interaction.

But for my mother-in-law, Zoey, and my father-in-law Pat, my stories struck a chord. They wanted that experience with my son and daughter. To be there. To be present. To be a major part of so many of our family’s memories and to have a relationship with their grandchildren that was entirely its own wonderful entity.

So my in-laws do. My son goes for bi-weekly sleepovers. He visits their farm once a week and has routines and traditions that are his and my mother-in-law Zoey’s alone; ice cream after dinner. As soon as my son walks in the door, my father-in-law Pat sets up the VCR (For the younger generation this is an old style of DVD player.) and put’s on Mini-Tex’s favourite movie. They go out to the garden and say “Hello” to the scarecrow, and he rides the tractor and Mini-Tex takes Pat’s old fishing rod, with the hook removed, out to the boat that’s been parked on the lawn for a decade.

And I encourage it. All of it. Even the visits to the well when Mini-Tex sits up front in the truck with the airbags off. I don’t like it, but I recognize how important it is. The well and fetching water is part of my in-laws life and Mini-Tex loves being in their life just as much my in-laws enjoy being in his. I know from experience that my role in this is to stand back and let that relationship happen. My Gran still comments on this during our twice weekly phone calls- that she and Granddad loved that they were always given access to my sister and me.

I think about how much I loved and still love Granddad and then I invite Zoey and Pat to watch my son’s swimming lessons-it’s automatic. I offer for them to stop by for a quick play while they do errands in town. I send them letters and pictures of the kids when they go south for the winter. I do all of that because my grandfather taught me how to ride a bike. Because Granddad made my math homework take 300% longer because he had to explain how knots work because he sailed even though it wasn’t relevant to the question. Because Granddad used to wheel a TV into my sister and my room at their house and play the Hobbit as we went to sleep every time that we visited.

I include my in-laws every chance I get because I miss my grandfather. Every day. I feel my Granddad’s absence keenly but seeing my children receive what I had – the daily unconditional love of a grandparent, somehow takes the sting out of my grief.

 

Recognizing That This Is The Last Time

When you’re little, there are birthdays and anniversaries and holidays, but then people grow up, drift, and move away. Suddenly, it’s been ten years since you’ve clapped eyes on them. That’s where the big celebrations like marriages and funerals come in.

I understood the concept of funerals getting everyone near and dear together to help the family grieve, but what I didn’t understand, prior to my grandmother’s death was that this is the last party that is just for her. It’s the last party where you can talk all about her without seeming like a crazy person or stuck in the past. It’s the last time that you can demand of everyone you know to share a memory.

My sister and I always joke that our Dad, Aunt and Uncles always give hour long speeches at every family function. But instead of preparing to grin and bear my way through pages upon pages of dry retold family stories and hokey Dad-jokes, on the day of, I found myself wishing for more. Because this was the last time; there would be no more birthday celebrations with Grandma holding court in a funny birthday hat while her children reminisced behind a podium, and her grandchildren not so patiently listened. This was the last of the protracted speeches about my grandmother’s thriftiness. As my oldest Uncle stepped down and finished his speech, I longed to hear more.

Luckily, my cousin had challenged her Dad to share some untold stories about our beloved matriarch. My Aunt did the same- I learned that my grandmother had been a secretary when she was younger. I grabbed hold of these small new pearls of information about my grandma and held them close, turning them over in my mind as they revealed previously unknown facets of the woman I loved and admired so much. My own story was deemed inappropriate for the funeral, so I sang instead.

It was a feat for me to perform- I’ve lived several lives since the time when I pretended to be a musician and aquamarine pleather pants were a staple of my wardrobe. It took all of my focus to stand up and follow along with the music. The song ended and I was swept away in a deluge of grief.

I was crying in earnest when I returned to my seat. My cousin Candy reached over and held me in a hug, from behind I felt another cousin squeeze my shoulder. In that moment, I was transported to all of the times that my little cousins and I crouched underneath my grandmother’s pool table, hiding during a family game of sardines. I thought about how magical it was that we had all those memories together, that Grandma was the linchpin of it all. In that brief group embrace was the love of decades.

My entire life, I have lived in a big family. And for my entire life, my Grandma loved and gathered all of us together, she accepted us for who we were and that in turn fostered a culture of tolerance and support in my family. As a weirdo who has always marched to the beat of my own drum, I have depended on this unconditional love for the confidence to be myself.

Through my sadness, I marveled at what an incredible achievement it is to have a person’s life be a legacy of love and acceptance. That no matter what, our family had this one last time together to appreciate what an incredible woman my grandmother was. Then I sat and listened to who my Grandma was to each of my cousins; sports fan, role model, drill sergeant. All the while, I wished for one more story, one more prayer, one more song to remember and celebrate her life, because this was the last time.