I was just shy of my 21st birthday when my father died. A victim of circumstance and disease, his passing shook the foundations of my early adulthood and shaped my life forever more. Though that moment is crystalized in my soul, the days that followed are blurry, obscured by a grief I couldn’t face or even truly acknowledge for far too long.
In the intervening years, that grief has dulled and blunted, finding a smoother edge that beckons rather than stabs. It seeps into the day to day whispers of my life, finding a home in the smells of my youth or the songs I know he loved. Certain dates are harder than others as are some holidays – or those pivotal moments that mark a life. New jobs, new moves, marriages, the birth of a child. Yesterday, my youngest graduated from Preschool… and he wasn’t there to cheer her. He’ll never be there to cheer them. He is the Grandfather they’ll never know.
The platitudes of grief are many and frequent. No loss can occur without trite words or empty wishes. Yet even the most generic of those condolences holds a grain of truth… it gets easier. The rawness fades, softened by the years and memories that build atop it. Each new experience and season offers distance from the pain, giving it a chance to drift to the background, where it becomes an echo instead of a shout.
“To live in the heart we leave behind is not to die.” – Thomas Campbell
A new struggle
Now, I find myself facing a new challenge. How do I introduce my children to an echo? My girls are young and steeped in the family that surrounds them – family that is missing a vital presence that helped shape their mother.
I tell the stories and share the pictures, yet the substance of my memories are hard to convey. They will never know the power of that man, or how his simple smile could light my day. They will never have impromptu midnight cocoa while staring at the stars, sharing jokes and listening to the sounds of the desert – at least not with him. They will never feel the freedom, or fear, of riding shotgun on a rickety mountain path, trusting only in his ability to steer a truck too wide for the road. They won’t know his bearded face or sparkling eyes… at least not like I did, or how a grandchild should.
His presence fills my childhood, yet its absence fills theirs – even if they will never know. They are blessed with four Grandparents plus Great Grandparents, who share their love and wisdom freely. I am grateful for this and thankful for them. Children need their Grandparents, those who offer the treats and reprieve a parent never can.
Yet even with this familial bounty, the child and mother in me wonders how different their lives would be if my father were still alive. What kind of Summers they would have with him by their side, or what mischief they would find together? I will never know… they will never know.
But I do know this: he would have loved them fiercely and wholly, the way only a Grandfather can. And that it is my job, as a daughter and a mother, to help them know that.
Ways to pass on remembrance
I have done a few things to help my girls know their Grandfather, and I plan to do more in the future. If you are struggling with this yourself, here are a few suggestions:
- Recreate traditions your loved one is known for – for us this includes reading ‘The Night Before Christmas’ on Christmas Eve, watching the stars, having donuts for breakfast on Christmas morning….
- Share stories of them
- Prepare your loved ones favorite food, and then tell them why it was special – or what made it special to you
- Show them the keepsakes you have kept
- Create a scrapbook to share
- Be honest with your kids about how you feel, who they were – and what happened. (Obviously, within age appropriate reason.)
Have you lost a loved one? A parent? How have you coped… and how do you help your child know them?