The door opens, a child barrels into the house, jumps into the arms of the man waiting with joyful anticipation, and yells: “Grampa!” The man swoops the child up in the air and they hug each other with big smiles on their faces. And I burst into tears. Because it’s happening on a TV show and I know it’s something I will never experience in my home; it’s a small thing, in the middle of a comedy show that makes me laugh time and again, but it hits me hard just as many little things do when I least expect them.
Growing up, I always felt that I missed something in not having grandparents around the way other kids I knew had them, sometimes just down the street. I only knew one grandparent – my dad’s mom – as my mom’s mom had passed away before I was born and sadly I have only vague memories of her dad because I was very young when he died. My dad’s dad was never in our lives, or in his. His mom lived until I was sixteen years old, but we lived about 800 miles away and only saw her about once a year. I know she was a very good lady, but unfortunately, as my brother and I were the youngest of thirty-one grandchildren, she seemed old for as long as I can remember. We had chats during our visits, but she wasn’t healthy enough to run around and play or to have us bouncing on her knee, and because of the huge family, our visits were generally crowded with activity, people, food, etc. and seldom quiet enough to actually bond closely. I know my dad and mom had great respect for her, and I know many stories of her that confirm her character and determination in caring for her family and getting through very difficult times. Circumstances dictated the nature of our relationship.
So when we had our children I was so grateful they were going to have grandparents close enough to build relationships and watch them grow up. As parents, we’re always glad when our children can have something we didn’t have, or that we didn’t have enough of compared to what we would have liked to have.
When we brought Michael home from the hospital and over to my parents’ house the first time, my dad looked at him in his little car seat and told me he would pay me $10,000 for each one I had if I just kept making more! My parents were part of my children’s everyday lives from the start, and when we moved to Alberta, there were regular visits and phone calls, and many memories were made.
Of course, both Grammas and Grampas are very special, but the relationships are different, at least that is what I have observed myself and in some other families too. Grammas are a lot like moms; they can be fun but they also teach, correct, worry, and try to keep things somewhat organized and safe because they want to make sure their grandchildren grow up to be responsible people with good manners who obey the law and, well, you get the point. They’re often more relaxed than moms, and they’re good at reminding moms not to be too hard on kids.
But there is something about Grampas; just as dad is often perceived as the “fun” parent while mom is busy enforcing rules, making sure the house is clean, and trying to prevent any major injuries, Grampas seem to be the calmer ones, letting the kids have fun, go on adventures, try cool things, probably because they are being entertained themselves just by watching! Grampas are full of mischief and stories and secrets.
Our children weren’t in the stage of life to be parents yet when Pat had his accident. But during his time in hospital in Ponoka, he always lit up when little ones came to visit other patients and wanted to get close to them. I remember him saying that he really wanted to have a grandchild. I asked him what he wanted to do with a grandchild and he said, in his childlike way: “I could hold them on my knee and kiss them.” He had it figured out. he would have been a wonderful Grampa.
But while my children were blessed in having grandparents play an active role in their growing up years and even into adulthood, even though I was happy to see that they had something I had missed, here we are now and they will miss something else that I can’t give them. If they have their own children one day, there will be stories to share, pictures to look at, and questions to answer. But they won’t experience the joy of bringing home their new baby and seeing the look on their dad’s gentle face that I know would be there: the sweet smile, the tears, the pride. They won’t later hear their little voices holler with glee: “Grampa!” and neither will I.
After laughing through most of the above-mentioned episode, it took me a little time to gather my emotions together. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that the slightest thing can still hit out of nowhere and feel like a stab in the heart in the middle of an otherwise uplifting experience. We didn’t just lose him for now. We lost our future with him that was still to hold so much, and this cute little boy on a TV show just reminded me of one more special thing I won’t get to share with the one person I was meant to share it with.
And, as it must, life moves on …