My Grandpa didn’t wake up this morning, and my heart is broken.
He was not my “real” Grandpa – at least that’s how some people would see it. He was my step mom’s father, and thus, my step-grandpa. But that’s not quite how I remember things.
I remember meeting him when I was merely six years old.
I remember how tight his hugs were.
I remember beaming every time he referred to me as “my granddaughter”.
I remember sleepovers at his cottage and dinners on the deck.
I remember how kind he was to my daughter.
I remember every birthday card, every phone call, and every simple gesture that told me time and time again that I was a part of his family.
With my daughter & my grandparents
Both he and my Grandma have spent the last 30 years showing me what REAL family is. It’s not only about blood ties, it’s also about love and acceptance. It’s about inclusiveness and trust, and I am so incredibly grateful for the lessons that they have taught me.
I come from a family with a lot of “step” attached to it. Step parents, step brothers, step sister, step grandparents and nieces and nephews, but I don’t use that word. They are my family, because I say so. They are my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews… and grandparents. In all of my years of existing in this family dynamic, I admit that I have had my moments of feeling left out. I have felt like an outsider on a few different occasions… but never, ever with them.
I cannot imagine what my Grandma is feeling today. Losing your husband of 64 years is something that I am unable to even fathom. My desire to immediately hop in the car and drive the hour to be with her, and the rest of the family, was squashed by these pesky kids that I have underfoot.. little monkeys, but I guess 3 and 14 months is too young to leave them alone…? Kidding. But really, I wish I was there. I want to wrap my arms around her and tell her I love her. I want her to know that they have helped shaped who I am today. I need her to know that the way the two of them accepted and loved me from day one has meant more than she could ever possibly know.
My grandparents encompass everything that a step family should be. They treated me like one of their own from the moment they met me; always remembering to ask about the other side of my family.. my mom, siblings, friends, school and work. They NEVER forgot a birthday – mine or my kids – and have been so generous and giving for as long as I can remember.
One of my strongest memories is of my grandma taking me aside one day when I was about ten years old. She told me that she wanted me to call her grandma. Our relationship had begun with me referring to her as “Mrs…”. Pretty formal but I was young and it seemed like the proper thing to do. I felt strange about calling them grandma and grandpa. I HAD grandparents already and I guess I felt like somehow it would be disrespectful to call other people by those names. So, I smiled and nodded and appreciated the sentiment, but didn’t oblige her. At that point I think I sort of slid into not calling them anything at all. Hellos and goodbyes and conversations were easy to enough to manage while remaining vague on how I addressed them. I WANTED to do it, I really did… and no one knows this but I truly agonized over it.
I just couldn’t, and I don’t know why.
And then, one day I didn’t have grandparents anymore. When I was 11, 12, 22 and 25, I lost them one by one. As those years passed I came to cherish my “step” grandparents more and more, and realized how lucky I was to have had not the typical four grandparents, but SEVEN! (My step dad also gave me my “Baba”, who passed away earlier this year as well.) So suddenly I felt very foolish for all those years I’d held them at arm’s length, worrying about what was right or appropriate or what might hurt someone else’s feelings. They were grandparents – MY grandparents – and I was damn lucky to have them. For the last 11 years I have never hesitated to say the words that she asked me to use so long ago, and today I am grateful for that.
Allow me to share one last thing with you. I’ve bought a lot of greeting cards in my day… some say niece, or aunt, or father, but some don’t. Sometimes I buy a card because the sentiment is sweet or fitting or funny, but I don’t often pay attention to how the card is addressed on the front. My grandparents always have. For thirty years, every single card I have ever gotten from them has said “TO OUR GRANDDAUGHTER” on the front, and has been signed “Your loving grandparents”.
Now you tell me what that says about these wonderful people.
Grandpa, you were the patriarch of a wonderful family, and you were kind and loving enough to invite me into the fold and embrace me as if I were your own.
You taught me a beautiful lesson about unconditional love, and I will carry it with me always. I love you, I will miss you, and I will never forget you.
Rest in peace, Chief.
xo Mary Beth