My last living grandparent passed away in October, and I’ve been thinking a lot about life after grandparents.
My grandfather was 87-years-old when he died of cancer. Before that, he was married to my grandmother for 61 years and lived a long and happy life with his two daughters, five grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. He was a man of faith, and I know he is in a better place.
His death wasn’t especially tragic. He grew old and passed away, as humans do. And, yet, it still hurts. I even feel like I need to qualify this essay with an, “I know some people my age have lost parents, siblings, and spouses. I know I’m lucky to have known all four of my grandparents and to have had them in my life for so long” clause. Indeed, I am lucky. But I’m still hurting, and as a result, I’ve been meditating on some of the ways my life has changed since losing Granddaddy Bray:
- Intellectually I know that life is fragile and that anyone can pass away at any time. But, emotionally, I’m now feeling a little terrified that the perceived buffer between my parents and death has been removed. It felt like as long as I had a living grandparent, my parents were “safe,” and of course I was too. (I know this idea is totally illogical, but hearts can be like that.) With no grandparents, I’ve had to really come to grips with the idea of losing my parents and of facing my own death someday. I think it’s impossible to really brace yourself for such a thing, but I have started thinking about it more, which leads to my next point:
- This loss has served as a reminder to be more eternally focused. Our current bodies are broken shells in a fallen world. This life is but “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). What will matter a year, a decade, a century, or a millennium from now? Am I living as if the Most Important Things are the most important things? Could anyone else tell that from the outside? I think I’ve got some work surrendering to do.
- As I said, my grandparents were married for 61 years. Happily married. It was really something to witness. My grandmother passed away about 5 years ago, and my grandfather was by her side every step of the way. They were such a pair that now that Granddaddy is gone, Ma seems more gone. Her death seems more final because as long as he was here, a part of her was, too. I miss them both tremendously.
- Because both of my Bray grandparents are gone, my mom and aunt will eventually sell my grandparents’ house. When I walked through the house after the funeral, I thought to myself, “I was really happy here.” I thought of all the Thursday nights spent eating turkey stew, the Saturday lunches with Ma’s signature grilled cheese sandwiches, and the Sunday dinners of fried chicken or roast beef, rice and gravy, acre peas, and rolls. (We’re Southerners; we eat a lot.) Selling the house will be the end of a long and happy era for our family. I’m grateful to have had it, but I’m devastated that it’s over.
- I’m inspired to refocus on relationships. People matter more than daily tasks, accomplishments, what I’m wearing, or who’s posting what on social media. In fact, according to one account, I’m likely in “the tail end” of my relationship with my parents – having already spent over 90% of the time that I will ever spend with them. How sobering is that? On the same note, it feels like my three year old was just born, but I’m already more than half-way through her stay-at-home years. I’ll blink and she’ll be twelve. I hope I look back and feel that I lived in the present moment with her as much as possible and enjoyed what parts I could.
Even though this life is constantly slipping away, I will try not to grasp my time on earth with a clenched fist. I will aim to let it flow freely through my open, uplifted hands and feel the beauty of it as it passes. I believe that people are created in the image of God and that our souls are eternal, which makes our interactions with each other far and away more important than just about anything else. There’s no better time to check in, laugh, high-five, or say ‘I love you.’ There is only now. Go call your mom.