At the End of a Life (a Reflection)

I remember as a little girl that going to Grandpa’s house was always proceeded with a lecture about behaving.  This was out of the ordinary for us, as we were always so well behaved.

Just kidding.

I am sure that people talked about us the way I’ve heard people talk about other big families.  Six children.  Loud.  Unruly.  Traviesos. 

We didn’t have a television, so Grandpa’s house was a real treat!  We would wait until one got up the confidence to ask if we could watch tv.  We would play by running around the circle that was created by a bar in the kitchen.  We would stare up at the huge grandfather clock and the swords hanging above the fireplace in wonder.  After all, who has swords in their house?

Jacinda, the littlest, would crawl in the space of the coffee table.  And the rest of us would with glee get glasses of ice water, kool-aid, or lemonade.  Any excuse to fill our cups with the ice from the freezer door ice maker.

Grandma Carol would make delicious treats: casseroles, peanut butter balls covered in chocolate, cookies with M&M candies pressed in the top…

I can compared us then to my nieces and nephews now, and I see such similarities.  We must have been such brats, and yet we always had some kind of treat waiting for us.  I know that was largely Grandma Carol.  She was more tender when Grandpa was still perched on his throne as the king of our family.  That’s what it felt like! Not because he was unkind to us.  I never remember Grandpa being unkind.  But he always had “a chair” that was his!  And as the patriarch, there was a level of aloofness that even children could recognize.

You know what I think?  Grandpas and Grandmas shouldn’t have to be “bad guys.”  They should get to enjoy their grandkids then send them back home.  Grandparents should get to fuss at their own children for their unruly children, with their grandkids blissfully unaware.  And parents should be conscious of the difference in tolerance of older people.

I haven’t been there for each family reunion.  I don’t get to see the ups and downs of waging wars on health like my family does.  I get to see differently–as if observing my parents and grandparents age through a series of photos rather than in real time.  I get the yearly visits (if I am lucky), and reminders to email.  I get to see the tenderness of an old man, without much of a memory of who he was before.

I hate the photo that was chosen of my Grandpa for his obituary.  That’s a man I don’t remember–one I have only heard stories of in whispers of virility and pride.  I love the picture I have in my mind: my Grandpa sitting in his arm chair, waving us over for hugs, or cradling his great-grandchildren with unspoken tenderness.  I see him in my father’s face, the best parts of him there, kindness and gentleness that multiplied with age.  At the end of a life, it’s the kind memories that matter most of all.

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