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I was reading a study the other day about the benefits of elderly persons interacting with young children on a consistent basis. The study basically shows that inter-generational interaction is meaningful for both children and the elderly. It decreases social isolation in older adults and improves the social and emotional skills of children. I was lucky to grow up surrounded by grandparents and my great grandmother. My great-grandmothers house sat yards from my own, and I was free to see her anytime I wanted. What I didn’t understand at the time though, is that our bond was special, in part, because of our age difference.
Her home was pure safety. Pure, unconditional love. There was no need to earn approval or affection. I was never ignored or felt like I was irritating someone. She was old and lived alone- she had nothing but time and love to give. I loved her not because she spoiled me or adored me (and she did) but because I felt so utterly loved and safe. When she passed away, it was like a part of that safety died. A part of my feeling of home. A part of the magic that was my childhood.
And when my family had to disassemble her belongings, her magic was disassembled as well. Books, clothing, photo albums, medication, memories. Food and dishes and fine china. Her Bible, her hand written notes, her checkbooks, the ordinary belongings that make up each of our lives. Almost heartbreaking in normalcy. The things that seem important and crucial to life, but aren’t.
I only ever knew my great grandmother through the eyes of a child. She was old by the time I arrived. She had lived through decades of struggles and changes and laughter and pain. She watched her husband pass away. She birthed three children who birthed eight more who birthed I don’t know how many. I was one of many grand children and I was lucky. To be able to see her any day I wanted to. To run up to her door and deliver a bouquet wildflowers. To spend summer mornings playing cards and reading the newspaper. To feel her arms around me, anytime I wanted, and hear her whisper “I love you. “ I’ve grown older and jaded because life has a way of doing that. I’ve heard “I love you “ enough times to hear it insincerely. That is perhaps her greatest gift to me: the sincerity of her love. I have been thinking of her more lately. This summer, with extra time on my hands due to COVID, I downloaded Duolingo and began learning Norwegian. Not because it’s practical (it’s not) but because, on some level, it made home feel closer. One of the only items I have left from her is a white mug with blue lettering spelling out the Lord’s prayer in English on one side and Norwegian on the other. She could still read it in Norwegian until the day she died. That mug lived in her glass-front cabinet and I loved looking at it. Loved when she would take it out and read it to me. Grief is a funny thing. It can come in waves, heavy at first but waning with time. For me, late on a Wednesday night, it came years after the fact, for no particular reason other than I was a bit homesick. Grief is a beautiful thing, too. It keeps our memories alive, reminds us that we’re human. Ties us all together, in a way, because we’ve all felt the pain of losing someone. It is at once deeply personal and universal. Grief is both a monster and a confidant. What a strange but lovely thing.
There is no point to this other than to say, we are all going to pass, someday. And nobody will remember the amazing things we did or how big our houses were or how much we weighed or what car we drove. We’re going to remember that feeling that shocked me awake a few nights ago, of being homesick for a person because that person loved unconditionally and gave wholeheartedly. Smiled just to see us. Wrapped us in a bear hug and said “I love you.”
P.S. There are many reasons you might be grieving right now, the recent events of the country being high on the list. Read about the physical symptoms of grief here, read about how to cope with grief here, and read about how to find legitimate sources of news and information here.