Margaret’s first grandpa died last week. On Thanksgiving Day. In front of us.
A trifecta of misfortune.
Grandpa Sandy’s death marks the first among Margaret’s grandparents to die. It’s an unsettling thought. On one hand we’ve been so fortunate that our parents have lived long enough to experience the birth of our kids and to watch them grow – something so many people we know are deprived of.
Though she’s been fairly quiet about this huge loss, Margaret is much more aware of her grandparents’ mortality today than she was a week and a half ago. She took it really hard the first two days and was a bit of a train wreck. She wouldn’t eat. She seems to be doing a lot better now that there has been some time since it happened.
I can’t relate. It’s been much harder on me. He raised me. He was a father to me. I have been a crying factory. Just yesterday at CVS, I saw a man that looked nothing like my stepfather except that he used a walker. Suddenly I’m in tears because all I saw was my stepfather.
Grandpa Sandy had a very strong presence in Margaret’s life since her birth. We spent a lot of time with him over the years, especially when she was little, before she went to school. He adored his granddaughter and doted on her. When we’d visit my parents, Grandpa Sandy would have her favorite TV shows queued up – Dora the Explorer, The Wonder Pets, and Jake and the Neverland Pirates – and he’d sit in his chair and watch these children’s shows with her.
She’d read to him on his lap.
As the household chef, he made her meals and snacks – anything she wanted.
He’d push her on her toddler swing. Endlessly.
Before he started using his walker, a three-year old Margaret would pretend to mimic Grandpa Sandy walking slowly through the house
leaning slightly forward over his six-foot five-inch frame with his hands behind his back. It was pretty funny.
This past summer, before she turned into a teenager, Margaret lived with Grandpa Sandy and her nana to attend a theater program. I’m pretty sure the experience was very different from when she was younger and she’d stay with them over holidays for a week at a time when my husband or I had to work or travel. And although they did not interact much because she was away in classes or performing day and night, he was always there for her to pick her up and make her meals. To love his granddaughter from “behind the scenes” as he did so well.
It’s always been important that my kids have a strong relationship with their grandfathers. I never had a grandpa growing up. My paternal grandpa died before I was born and my maternal grandpa died when I was 5 years old. I only met him twice since he lived a few thousand miles away. I don’t really remember Grandpa Russell outside of pictures. The one memory I have of him was when he came out to LA from Pittsburgh where he lived and I helped him hang up his clothes in the closet. I was standing on a chair. All I remember is how happy I was to be helping him like a “big girl.”
I also have a note from him that he wrote me (you can almost hear his thick, Italian accent when you read it.) It’s been over 40 years since I last saw him but I always knew that he loved me. That imprint was so strong that he was the major character in the novel that I wrote.
In the end, Margaret had 13 years with her grandpa. Far more time than many grandkids get with theirs. And I have this feeling that the sorrow she initially felt in response to losing him is not gone so much as stuffed somewhere deep inside of her. I’ve learned through my own therapy that kids do that because they can’t process grief the way in which a mature adult can. Given this, I strongly suspect that some day when she’s older and mature, so many of the beloved memories of Grandpa Sandy will come to visit her when she least expects it. I just hope I’m right there for her when they do.
Because she will need someone to hand her the Kleenex box.