When a grandparent dies
How do you talk about it with your kids when a grandparent dies?
“I sure do miss Grandma!”
“I do, too, honey.”
“Mommommom! Remember Grandma?”
“Yes, of course I do!”
“I wah-ah-ahnt my Gra-ah-ah-ma!”
“So do I, love, so do I…”
These are all things my youngest has said at least on a weekly basis during the past year: the first two being matter of fact and cheerful and usually followed up by a fun or funny story, the last reminiscent of Grandma’s memorial service, the Saturday after Thanksgiving last year.
He was three at the time and had cried himself to sleep while sitting on the lap of one of his preschool teachers who had come to the service. Today he cries for his Grandma when he is indignant over something his brothers have done, looking for a second opinion about a consequence I’ve doled out, or just plain tired.
Grandma had become a more or less constant presence in our lives for the almost-year prior to her passing, when she had moved back from California to be near her “grandboybies.”
And now a year after her death, she was still that steady presence. Just about every night my middle son asked for “meditations” — bedtime recordings Grandma had made, which I had transferred from cassette tape to CD, not only so each boy would have his own copy, but also so we’d have a back-up source.
We all still talked about her as if she had gone on a long weekend trip somewhere and left us behind, in a collective huff that we didn’t get to go.
There were times that I’d spontaneously snap a picture with my cell phone camera of the kids doing something that only Grandma would appreciate — like my youngest eating Froot Loops® with his toes — and then delete it because I had no one to send it to, my heart feeling empty as I confirmed “yes, delete photo” and watched the clock icon ticking as the picture evaporated into nothingness.
Hardly a day passed that one of us didn’t muse, “What would Grandma say?” or “Grandma would be so proud of you!”
“Well, she is, Mom!” my oldest reminded me. “Don’t you think she can see us from heaven?”
“Well, yes, of course, honey, I suppose she can…”
We celebrated Grandma’s birthday in late October with orange-frosted cupcakes. A couple of my best friends brought or sent me flowers and several others sent me notes to commemorate Grandma. Some of us wore her jewelry or flowers in our hair.
“Why did Grandma have to die!?” my middle son demanded.
“I don’t know, angel, but if we keep her in our thoughts and prayers, she is alive in us and alive in heaven, right?”
I often wondered, where is heaven, exactly? Is it possible that it is right here among us? We can’t see or hear everything in the electromagnetic spectrum; in fact the portion that we can see and hear with our human eyes and ears is just a small percentage including certain colors of light and radio waves. We can feel some things that we can’t see, such as infrared light. Perhaps Grandma really is here with us sometimes. Would that explain the sensation that she’s standing beside me or the dreams I have about her, or my youngest telling me that he talked to Grandma on the phone last week? Or how sometimes my friends will pass messages from her (“Your mom doesn’t like that pumpkin”) or say things to me that only she has ever said (“Well, my dear…”) in precisely the same tone of voice.
“I can’t wait to go to heaven!” my youngest told me.
“Oh, I can wait — I’d miss you too much!” I wondered if Grandma missed us the way we missed her, or if “missing” was just a one way street.
“Well, not if you’re already there!” he pointed out.
“Oh, but I’m not ready to go there, little dude. I can wait!”
“I’m not afraid to die,” my oldest chimed in.”
Is that just what all people under 30 say or is he truly unafraid of the unknown? Because I am not looking forward to dying any time soon, personally. I’ve had to fight off tendencies toward hypochondria during the past year. I cling fast to the reminder one of my friends told me, “When it’s your time, it’s your time,” imagining that it can’t possibly be yet since I don’t feel like I am done here, though deep down, I know that’s not really up to me.
At a basketball scrimmage one time, another mom relayed the story about her seatmate on an airplane who told her she’d had a brain aneurism, died, gone to heaven, and came back as doctors resuscitated her body. In heaven she had seen her father, and he told her he loved her, that it was not yet her time, and that he would see her when she died again. The mom said that this woman now lived peacefully, unafraid, and with a spirit of gratitude.
Grandma, too, lived her life peacefully, unafraid, and with a spirit of gratitude. I hope and pray that when it is my time, I feel the same way. After all, isn’t dying a form of rebirth? Isn’t tomorrow just a big unknown, anyway? Would the eternal aspect of heaven make it seem that our time on earth was just a “long weekend”?
Will all our questions be answered when we die? (Still, I can wait.)