Monday, September 30, 2013

Some thoughts about grandparents...

In recent years September 30 has been kind of a sad day for me, as this was the date on which my last remaining grandparent, Mary Lee Burbage, passed away at the age of 84. (This was, perhaps coincidentally, and perhaps not, the date on which her own mother died, many decades before. Make of that what you will.)

I am not going to assert that her death was a tragedy. It wasn't. The death of a twelve-year-old girl is a tragedy. The death of a fortysomething father of three is a tragedy. Eighty-four is a good run, in the big scheme of things, and a lot longer than many people get. Nor did she have to endure a long period of suffering. Her passing was peaceful, as passing goes.

However, her death was relatively unexpected. She had been one of those “active” older folks—very independent and very self-sufficient, and certainly not “doddering”.

The weekend after Labor Day, 2007 she was hospitalized for a sudden bout of pneumonia. I was concerned but not particularly alarmed at the time. She died in the hospital a few weeks later.

I was thirty-nine when my last remaining grandparent died, and my other grandparents had survived through most of my twenties. Many people lose their grandparents much earlier. Once again, I cannot plead any special misfortune. 

But that doesn't change the fact that your relationships with your grandparents will be among your shortest significant relationships. And that realization is worthy of reflection.

We live in an age that emphasizes youth and the future. Grandparents, obviously, represent neither of those things. Most grandparents have been retired for years by the time we meet them, so their advice about school, work, and other practical matters is hopelessly dated. They are two generations removed from us, after all. They aren’t “current” on the topics that we care most about.

Nevertheless, you probably recall that your grandparents were very interested in you. Grandparents want our time and attention. They are our first groupies, literally from the day we are born.

While your parents might have loved you unconditionally, they also wanted you to clean your room, get good grades in school, and study for your SATs. Your grandparents were able to relax in the knowledge that your parents were taking care of these things. Relationships with grandparents are therefore generally more relaxed, a unique blend of friendship and paternal love.

Most of us are very close to our grandparents early in life, then take them for granted when we become adolescents and teenagers. Then we rediscover them in adulthood—if they are still around.

I accept the passage of time and the circle of life, etc., etc. But I still miss my grandparents, especially my most recently deceased grandmother, who died six years ago today.

If any of your grandparents are still alive, I encourage you to call them today. Someday you’ll regret it if you don’t. Trust me on this—I know from experience.