November 22, 2010

Grandparents & Grandchildren

How Lucky Are We To Feel This Grief?
Notes from a Type 2 Grandchild

It seems many times the grandparent-grandchild relationship fits into one of two types.  Type 1 goes something like this: grandparent equals distant relative who sends $100 for every holiday (and I mean every holiday – Christmas, birthdays, Easter, Valentine’s Day, and even the more obscure ones that nobody gets gifts for, like St. Patrick’s Day, President’s Day, maybe even the Fourth of July!).  Growing up I knew kids who were Type 1 grandchildren.  When I got my birthday card containing five one-dollar bills, maybe I was a little envious of my friends who were getting a free $100 in the mail every month, no strings attached.  Because I, you see, am not a Type 1 grandchild.

We Type 2 grandchildren don’t get those hefty monthly paychecks.  What we get instead are grandparents who just won’t leave us alone.  They come to our dance recitals, to our graduations, to our new houses, to our tailgates!  Like a plague, they are impossible to avoid.

Over the years, though, we begin to see them differently.  We see that they, too, were 23 once.  They were 23, and 30, and 40; and wild teenagers, and anxious 20-year-olds, and excited newlyweds, and scared new parents, and firm disciplinarians; and finally, our grandparents.  We begin to see them not just as grandparents, but as people; and if we’re really lucky, we begin to see them as our friends and role models.

When grandparents die, Type 1 grandchildren are no doubt in grief, but they haven’t lost what we Type 2’s have lost.   We’ve lost something bigger than our holiday salary.  We’ve lost the opportunity to see our grandparents, whose marriage we so admire, be the last ones standing on the dance floor at our wedding when we have the couple dance.  We’ve lost our chance to put our own children into the arms of their great-grandparents and see an entire generational span sitting in one chair.

And when our grandparents die, we don’t have the money in the bank to remember them by.  What we do have are countless memories.  And also, for the time being, we have what seems like insurmountable grief.

And how lucky are we to feel this grief?  To feel this grief means to have been able to call our grandparent “cool” or our “friend.”  It means to have been able to share experiences beyond formal holiday dinners.  To feel this grief means to have had a constant presence in our lives that we knew would never leave.  It means not having had to think of every family event as “mandatory,” but to have actually had the opportunity to look forward to spending time together.  To have had little inside jokes with someone 50 years our senior.  To be shown first-hand that maybe wisdom does come with age, and maybe our parents and grandparents aren’t as clueless as we once thought.  To feel this grief means to have had a sterling example of what it’s like to be over-the-top-in-love for over 50 years. To feel this grief means to have gotten to actually know the people whose existences our own depended on.

So to those Type 1 grandchildren, I say You can keep your $100 and I’ll take my $5 in singles, my memories, and my grief.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

I was a type 2 without the $5 in singles. I was type 2 who had saturday morning breakfast every saturday like clockwork. My grandma would get her hair dyed (a slightly different shade of red) every saturday. After which we always had breakfast. A couple times we missed it though, because we didn't get there by 11am, and after 11 they charge you for coffee instead of including it with your breakfast, and there was NO WAY Grandma Henny was paying for her coffee.