Over the year that my Grandma was in a nursing home due to her stroke and heart attack so many people tried comforting my loss with the phrase “you’re lucky to have such a strong connection with your Grandma; most people your age don’t have that”. Now, when she was alive that phrase angered me. When living in the state of anticipatory grief, anything anyone says to you is brushed off and I believe that idea is relevant to a lot of people. For me, I was searching for some magical key phrase from someone that would alleviate my sadness and grief, but nothing that was said to me was ever good enough. People’s best attempts at comfort were seemingly insignificant, ignorant and shallow.
Yet now that my Grandma is gone, I’m in the actual grief process. Mornings I wake up crying, staring at the pictures I have of her on my nightstand. Countless hours throughout the day her memory comes to mind, and I find myself at a loss when I catch myself thinking of stopping by the nursing home after class to go see how she is today. Nobody said grief and the stages of grief were easy or simple, but actually being all in, is a difficult place to be in.
But I don’t want to focus on the negative for this, instead I want to twist it a bit and focus on the positive impact my Grandma had on my life, and still has even though she has passed. It all comes back to the idea people told me, that I am lucky to have had a relationship like the one I did with my Grandma. As the days and weeks pass, I’m beginning to realize how lucky I truly am to be her Granddaughter.
We can learn a lot about life from our Grandparents, if we take the time to get to know them. So let me tell you some key points that stick out to me when I think about the woman who so heavily influenced me not only in childhood but as I grew into a young adult.
She was born in the late 1920’s and was growing up in the Great Depression era. Before she could graduate school she dropped out and began working so she could help out her family. In this time, education wasn’t as highly needed as providing for your family, but even without a diploma my Grandma had so much wisdom, the kind that life experiences can only teach you.
When she met my Grandfather and later married him, they tried to have children, yet had several stillborns, but their determination and longing to have a family caused them to keep trying and in the end my two uncles and mother were born. You know the cliche “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? Most people after a couple of stillborns would have given up that dream to have a family with the one they love; although I don’t know much about who my Grandma was at this age, the fact that she was a strong and determined woman is evident. I’ve always said that I wanted to be her when I grow up, and this strength she mustered when the odds seemed against her is what I’m talking about.
She was a homemaker her whole life and did everything for the family; she loved to travel and spend time at the ocean. Grandma loved with all of her heart and never once wanted anyone to worry about her, yet she worried endlessly about everyone else. I wouldn’t necessarily classify this as a literal martyr, but in the emotional aspect I would. I remember after my Grandpa died when I was 13, my mom and I spent the night at her house so she didn’t have to be alone. It was something I didn’t even recognize until mom and I talked about it some years later, and that is the fact that Grandma didn’t cry in front of us. Knowing her, she held it in as to not be a burden to us, and it’s also that pride that I believe a lot of people in her generation were raised on. How can someone the day they lose the love of their life, the man they were married to for over 50 years, not shed a tear the night of their beloved’s death? But as me and my mom always say, that’s Grandma.
It’s been shown in research that the relationship a Grandparent has with their adult grandchildren is beneficial to both sides. For the older adult in the relationship, their connection with the grandchild helps bridge that generation gap; we as adult grandchildren, just by living our lives, help keep them integrated into society as much as is possible. Our own generations culture is kept up when we spend time with our grandparents, and they are less of a minority or outsider in the world. That’s why I always disliked nursing homes. When Grandma first entered into the place she would ultimately die in, I remember how impersonable it was. There was no outside influence on the place, and the staff seemed to try and go back in time with what the older generation should like. Black and white movies played constantly in the common area near the nurses station, and the only thing I saw that was current was the attitudes and mannerisms of the staff. Now that I think about it, there wasn’t even up to date magazines for the residents to read, no books on the shelves or anything that resembled a normal life. Even though my own Grandma couldn’t communicate back with me, I made sure to keep her up to date on everything that was happening in my own life. Not because I felt I had to, but because I know she would want to hear of the things I was doing with my life. The research of bridging the gap, so to speak, makes sense. It was never a conscious decision, but as a grandchild, simply being who I am with my Grandma, at least I hope, helped keep her feeling as if though she belonged.
Now on the other hand, and I slightly touched on this already, the adult grandchild & grandparent relationship also touches the lives of us in the younger generation. If you’re familiar with psychology you know the stages of development. As I was growing up I spent many days down at my Grandparents’ house. From the time I was an infant I was exposed to their generations culture and if I’m being honest it had such a profound influence on my own life. There was something intriguing to me as a child, seeing the things of the generations before me. Spending time looking through the mass amounts of pictures from the early 1900’s, seeing people I had never met but were still family by blood, listening to the music my Grandma enjoyed and even seeing how fulfilling their life was even though they lived without many of the “needed” things our generation views as necessities.
The relationship I have with my Grandma bridged that gap between our generations. I grew up in those early stages of development with my grandparents, and as I grew older I had such an admiration for their generation. I loved the music they grew up with, the colorless black and white films were fascinating to me and the years of wisdom my grandparents built up just from simply living their lives and doing the best they could with what they had, I believe played a role in molding me into the old souled young adult I am today.
So getting back to the statement I opened with, yes I am very lucky to have had such a connection with my Grandma. It makes me sad to think that she may not have ever known how much I looked up to her, how much she influenced me, but I find peace in knowing that even if she didn’t know, that her life lessons and everything I ever learned from her will continue to be of high importance as I continue on living my own life.