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Monday, December 01, 2014

The Love of a Grandparent

Very early this morning my former father-in-law passed away.  He had non-alchoholic cirrhosis of the liver and multiple organ failure due to it and had been on life support for the past week while the doctors determined what, if anything, they could do.  My children have been on an emotional roller coaster, and I hurt for them because they loved him and he loved them.  He loved them as only a grandparent can.  Which means they didn't appreciate that love until they knew it would be gone, and they held on to it tightly, because they loved him just as much right back.

I was lucky enough to have all of my grandparents as I was growing up. I spent my formative years around my maternal grandparents who were not the touchy feely type, but taught me valuable lessons.  My maternal grandfather is actually still alive, in his 90s and living in a senility care center somewhere in Idaho.  My maternal grandmother died in the 90s and she taught me so many things about home making.  She patiently sat and taught me to embroider when I was a girl.  She was the one who inspired my love of making things by hand.  It was unfortunate that sewing machines hate me.  I learned to knit and she was thrilled and but she was not into yarn thing. I used to embroider and cross-stitch all the time when my children were little.  It was a cheap way to decorate my home.

My paternal grandparents, they taught me love.  They lived in the San Francisco area and I would visit them several times a year until I was about 15 or so, then it just stopped.  Not because of them, because of my mother.  I didn't realize until after my grandmother died in the early 90s that she had loved me to such a degree that the realization that the person who loved me like that was gone was devastating.  She had a stroke, and was on life support while they waited for my father to finish up a deal in Paris to come home and put the final nail in the plug being pulled.  His feeling was very much, "Well, she's gone already, what's 24 hours?"  Twenty-four hours of watching a loved one linger is a special kind of hell he will never experience because he loves no one but himself.

I could not go to San Francisco because I was pregnant and just diagnosed with what they thought was gestational diabetes.  I was torn up because I couldn't travel.  My youngest daughter is 3 short weeks from her due date and her doctor told her she shouldn't travel to Houston at this juncture.  It's torn her up.  However, her memories of her grandfather will never be tainted by remembering him attached to tubes and hoses keeping him alive.  She will remember him differently than her siblings who spent so much time at the hospital to be with him, so he wouldn't be alone.  I know exactly what she's feeling.  I can tell her that it changes after some time, the guilt that you weren't there at the end.  I don't see my grandmother, in my memories, in a hospital being kept alive with machines.  I always see her, sitting in her chair, clearing her throat as I played the piano for her.

My memories of my paternal grandparents are filled with love and laughter.  I don't think that either of my grandparents were happy in their marriage, but I know they loved me.  The reason I know is that they didn't have a lot of money, lived in California, and yet they made every single visit I made there special.  They didn't lavish me with gifts, they lavished me with love, and I soaked it in like a sponge, holding it dearly until the day I would need to pull it out and keep going on when I was sure I couldn't.  I still pull out that love when I need it.

Both of my grandmothers attempted to make me a lady, when it was obvious to everyone around me that I was just a little too rough around the edges to really do the job properly.  I remember my last trip to San Francisco and my aunt and grandmother taking me to a record shop I wanted to check out.  The clerk there made fun of my Southern accent and assumed I was retarded, so I began cursing him out in perfect French.  French my aunt was sure she hadn't taught me.  My grandmother chided me once we were out of the shop, telling me that ladies don't use that kind of language.  I told her if I ever ran into a lady using that kind of language I'd be sure to tell her that.  I got "the look".  The look that said, "Why do I try?  You just don't want to be a lady!"

Both of my grandmothers were determined that I would be a lady.  It's why I still set the table properly and know which fork to use and exactly where the water glass goes. It why I know the best fabric for place mats and appreciate cotton on a level that only most older, seamstresses can appreciate.  Because of them I love hats.  I can't wear them but I could watch them for days.  Because of them I always feel bad when I eat at my desk or in the living room watching TV. They taught me the art of conversation by encouraging it around the dinner table.  They gave me my mad love for schedules and routine and organization.  Unfortunately, Thank You notes, birthday and holiday cards were a given a miss by my agile mind.  I am looking now for family addresses so I can send out cards.  I also send out cards to my besties from school.

My children chafed at my attempts to civilize them.  They only had two grandparents who cared that they had good manners.  However, I am hoping that my incipient granddaughter will benefit from my being her grandmother in ways she won't appreciate until I am gone.  I know a grandparent's love and I intend that she will, too.  I can love her as I never loved her mother, because I don't have to "raise" her.  I can spoil her as my grandparents spoiled me.  Spoil her with love and showing her things that are still important in this world.  I intend to be Oma who will always bring a smile to her face when she thinks of me, even when she's a teen and would rather die than be around a grandparent.

The love of a grandparent gets us through many situations in life where the love of a parent isn't wanted or appreciated.  Because it's a different kind of love.  It's the love that I pray my children hold close to them now that it's not immediately there, but the memory is really just as good. It will take time before they can remember that love and joy without the sadness of the loss.  I'm here for them, whenever they need it.  They won't appreciate or understand that love until they have children of their own.

I'm patient.  Because my grandfather always took me fishing when I visited and we would go up to the cabin in McCall and spend days on the lake.  I learned it from him.  And it's a happy memory, and I pull it out when I need it.  It will always be there for me.  He made sure of that without ever realizing he was doing it. And THAT is what is so special about a grandparent's love.  They teach us things and we don't realize we're learning.

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