a Granddaughter without grandparents

Friday, April 10, 2015

My grandfather passed away yesterday.  He was a lot of things in his life, a husband, a Dad, a Korean War Veteran, a magic trick enthusiast, a Pittsburgh Steelers & Pirates fan, my Pap Pap, my kids' great grandpap.

life bookends.
Great Grandfather Al (85 yrs) and youngest Great Granddaughter Violet (4months)

He will be missed.
painstakingly so.
in moments that come unannounced and fiercely.

just as my other three beloved grandparents have been missed everyday for the past five and six years.
painstakingly so.
in moments that come unannounced and fiercely.

My Pap, my Mum's Dad.
He was my last surviving grandparent.
My undeniable tether to the term grandchild has slipped its knot and silently floated away.

What is it to be a grandchild anyway?

In my case it was blind acceptance, encouragement, and pride.
It was knowing that someone loved me without restraint, despite (because of?) all my flaws and uniqueness.
A grandparent's love is unbound from expectations, worry, or the weight of responsibility that a parent must carry as they attempt to both love and raise.
A grandparent just loves;
they delight;
they look at their grandchildren through eyes that are cleared and focused by hindsight and years slipped by too quickly.

With the passing of my grandfather; my Pap Pap, I am now grandparentless. I usually identify myself by the roles of my life, the different lens on which I view my experiences and feelings.  I am a human, a woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend,...am I now no longer a granddaughter?  Does that identifier get removed now that I have no living grandparents?

this past week, I visited him in the hospital as he was being treated for pneumonia.  He was drifting in an out of awareness as his dementia has dictated for the past few years.  I don't think he knew who I was, but I could feel that he recognized that I was important to him in some unknown way.  His eyes, as they've always done since any time I can remember, looked at me like I was something brillant; some bright shining star that undeniably gave him joy in some deep down gut way that grandchildren do.

I held his hand and whispered to him to 'just relax and let them help you get better.'  I showed him pictures of his great grandchildren and sang to him to try to keep him breathing steady and calm.  It pained me in the most raw way to see this man, this strong man in both will and body for most of his life (an athlete! a veteran!) to be so weak and restrained by age and illness.  Death, do you give no one dignity?

I feel solace to know that he is strong again, free from suffering in both his mind and body now.  But as all who grieve I feel sadness for us, those left behind.  My Mumma.  My uncles.  My kids who won't grow up knowing him first hand.  Me; this grandparentless granddaughter.

I am clinging to this passage from my favorite book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, as I try to make sense of a world without the unbridled love of a living grandparent;

"If what Granma Rommely said is true, then it must be that no one ever dies, really.  Papa is gone, but he's still here in many ways.  He's here in Neeley, who looks just like him and in Mama who knew him so long...Maybe I will have a boy some day who looks like Papa and has all of Papa's good...And that boy will have a boy.  And that boy will have a boy.  It might be there is no real death." 

Pap is gone in body, but he will live forever in spirit in the funny way that Grey makes sound effects that has always reminded me of him.  He will live on in every time I call my kids my Sugarplumies (as I often do).  It will be him that I will think of when I hear a harmonica play and his tradition that I'll pass on each Easter when making pysanky eggs.

Just as my grandparents who have already passed that live on in all the tiny details of my daily life.  In the bone structures of my children's faces, in the songs, fables, and silly games I teach them.  In the way I yearn to call them and then realize, impossibly, years have passed since I last spoke to them when it only feels like days since I last hugged them.  In the sudden feeling that they are right there in odd little moments when I need someone to just love me, just the way I am in all my imperfectness.

My grandparents are no longer here, but I am still a granddaughter.
because I carry their legacy inside of me.
and I will pass it on down the line.

love you Pap Pap.


  1. Oh Tabitha. This was beautiful. I am so so sorry that your grandpa passed. I have decided there is NEVER enough time with those that we love. Sending you love & hugs during this hard, sad time.

  2. Your grandparents will live on through you and your children. It is hard losing them but talking about them keeps their memory alive and keeps your children knowing who they are/were. It is difficult. My oldest lost 3 great grandparents and 1 great great grandparent in a period of 1 1/2 years but still always asks about them and will mention them in normal conversation. Believe that they will live on and be part of your life forever.