A parent should never outlive their child. Truth as there is behind this one simple statement, it does not make it any easier when a child loses a parent. It may hurt a little less for my mom to lose my grandmother, now in her 90s, than it would for me to lose my 50-something mom; and that in turn might hurt less in the grand scheme of life than for Grace to lose me right now, but there is hurt nonetheless. But what about grandchildren, how do we measure their hurt?
I grew up knowing one set of grandparents. On my dad’s side my nonna had already died, and my nonno lived in Italy, and died when I was only 5 besides. But on my mom’s side, I knew and know my grandparents very well. I spent entire summers with them, scouring fields for wild mushrooms with my nonno and learning to knit and watching The Price is Right with my nonna. I knew their home as well as I knew my own; where the best hiding places were and where the goodies were stashed. My life is so full from memories of cereal with sugar in my milk for breakfast, biscotti e latte before bed, homemade pasta eaten together from one communal wooden platter (the best thing you could ever eat in all your life), my nonna’s old wringer washing machine, eating cucumbers right from the vines of their backyard garden (by this I mean that their backyard, all of it, was a garden), lemon water in the fridge and the feel of my nonno’s favourite vinyl armchair. My nonno, the man who always pinched my nose and called me Cippolletta (Little Onion), died when I was 18, and for me it was a very sad day.
Quite honestly, when J and I were first asking ourselves that question, Are we ready for kids?, one of the main driving forces behind our decision to go for it was knowing that our kids would have four amazing grandparents, and wanting our kids to grow up knowing, and influenced by, their grandparents. It was with a sad heart when, having made that decision and being in the process of trying, we discovered that my father-in-law had cancer. He beat cancer the first time around, got to meet his granddaughter, and although Grace is too young, provided us, her parents, with fond memories of the two of them. Every moment that Grace spent with her grampy was an important one for us, because we knew that cancer would one day be back.
Unfortunately it returned way too soon, just before Grace’s first birthday, and with way too much finality. We managed two trips “down home” as a family since then.and during that time no matter how ill he felt, or how frustrated, or how emotional, he always had a smile for his “little girl.” I thought of that this morning, the morning after his final breaths, as Grace was making bubble sounds by twiddling her lower lip. He taught her that, and it’s still her favourite trick.
I remember when J first passed on the news to his dad that we were expecting Grace. He responded by saying that children, having them and raising them, are the reason for life. As I sit here, with a new life inside of me, expecting him to make his debut at any time now, those thoughts take on a deeper meaning. I am sad for the memories that will never be formed. Sad that Grace and her brother will not know and learn from such a role model, yet happy that Grace, at least, knew who he was for however short a time. J is a bit more concrete than I on these matters, but for me, I can’t help but feel that grandfather and grandson are somewhere out there in the yonder world, together in spirit, the old passing on the torch to the new, and that on some level they know each other already.