And suddenly, there were none.
Last week, my last living grandparent passed. He was 94, a World War II pilot, fisherman, camper, poker player, loving husband to my grandmother who passed just four months earlier, father to three boys, grandfather to nine and great-grandfather to 14.
Without a doubt, he lived a full life, and his smile lit up a room when surrounded by family.
When I heard the news, I can’t say I was surprised. His health was declining, and we knew he was lonely after his bride of 65-plus years left his side. But still, as I sat in Mass on All Saints Day yesterday, and now reflect on All Souls Day – a Catholic day of prayer for those who have passed – the finality of losing all of my grandparents sinks in.
How blessed and lucky I’ve been to experience the love of grandparents for so many years. How wonderful it has been to see my own three kids play cards with their great grandparents, hug them, kiss them, listen to their tales. What a treasure they’ve been given to witness the love of a family that has endured for so many years. I have pictures of four generations – and that is a rare thing these days.
Family, as I’ve learned, is everything.
It’s showing up. It’s sacrificing. It’s compromising.
A little over a year ago, my husband and I were contemplating a move out of state for a career transition forced upon me. There were promises of a bigger house, more money, a shorter commute. Four months ago, I opted to say no to that option and instead stay close to my parents and my husband’s parents.
With the juggle of three young kids and two careers, people said they got it. They talked of childcare help and an extra set of people to shuttle our kids to activities. They spoke of the desire to stay close to parents that will someday age. They commented on the ease of holidays and birthdays.
Sure, those were all factors, but really the decision was about family, and what family means to us.
My children have such a special relationship with their own grandparents today. They often have the biggest group of cheerleaders at weekend soccer games. My own dad occasionally walks my kids to school. We are able to enjoy spontaneous weekend dinners. Or meet up for pizza. We ride our bikes to nana and papa’s for a quick hello. My boys can shoot BB guns with their grandpa in the garage. They enjoy special french toast breakfasts after Saturday sleepovers. They relish the cuddles of being read to on the couch. They are often treated to secret Starbucks drinks and baked treats – when mom and dad aren’t looking. They converse about topics only grandparents and grandkids can enjoy, and they experience the love of family members who sometimes have more patience to give when two busy parents are simply trying to juggle it all. My kids are loved like crazy by their grandparents – and that will never be a bad thing.
I credit all of my grandparents for creating a family that truly values “family.” I will forever be grateful for the lessons I learned from them and the joys they gave me, especially in my childhood days. I will fondly remember fishing trips, baking, competitive games of UNO, playing with costume jewelry, delighting in pudding pops, watching Murder She Wrote and The Price is Right. I will remember the smells of Thanksgiving feasts, the trips to pick strawberries in the Santa Maria fields, the dressed up excursions to see The Nutcracker and the jello salad I did not want to eat.
Today, as I reflect on the grandparents I lost, I can’t help but say thanks for the memories I gained. They gave me family, and now I want nothing more than to give my own children those same amazing gifts.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But family, we will always be.