Recently, as I talked with my mom in the family kitchen, we started discussing my grandparents. Specifically, she reprimanded me for not calling my grandparents in Jamaica more often. She then informed me that she was no longer going to pass along information about them to me. For the rest of the day I continued to think about the issue that I’ve long dismissed. Why is it that we can be so detached from the people we love the most? I’ve concluded that I deliberately do it.
My childhood was spent growing up with both sets of grandparents in Jamaica. For several years I saw more of them than I did my parents who, during that time, lived in New York. Now, don’t feel sorry for this fact. It’s a common cultural occurrence in the Islands, having a relative raising your child. In my case, for health reasons, it was best that I was in that climate rather than that of New York. Additionally, the school systems there are more challenging than those in the States. All that is to say that for quite some time my grandparents were the center of my universe. To this day the love I feel for them fills my heart with warmth.
Thus far, I’ve only had to deal with two deaths of close family members. They were painful and I still frequently feel the loss. However, I’ve not yet had to deal with the death of someone who is a part of what I’d call my core. The closest such death was my grandaunt/godmother. She passed away six years ago. Her passing is one that I think of at least weekly. I remember not being able to stay in the viewing room as the tears and the magnitude of what was happening proved too much to deal with. I sat out in the hallway in disbelief and agony. However, for the most part, I feel that I’ve handled it well enough. However, what scares me, what brings me to tears even at the thought of it, is losing my grandparents.
I know that I’m blessed to have them be actively a part of my life. I consciously think of that each and everyday. However, like so many of us I find reasons why I don’t stay in touch as much as I should. I tell myself that I’m too busy, it costs too much to call, there’s nothing to talk about, etc. But it really is just one phone call maybe twice a month. Why is this so difficult? The truth of it is, and it pains me to admit it, I keep them at arms length in order to lessen the impact of losing them.
When I think of my childhood there is no memory that doesn’t include them and the love they have for me. I sometimes feel a sense of longing, wanting to go back. I know that dying is as much a part of life as living but I suppose for me I’m trying to ignore the ticking clock. It’s certainly not easy. As I grow older I realize that so too do the people I love. It’s hard to picture life without them and so I simply try not to.
There is nothing that I wouldn’t do for my grandparents. However, it appears that the one thing I won’t do is communicate with them. How does one truly express how they feel about loved ones in a way that is as profound for them as it is for you? How many of us are just too busy to express their love to those we love the most?
I recently received news about one of my grandparents that deeply impacted me. Something that was synonymous with that individual and with my childhood memories is now gone. I sat down and became increasingly more gloomy in my thoughts. The memories I hold are so dear, how could I reconcile the memories with that of life changes? I long for those days and so thinking about change is almost like taking away that memory. I know that nothing I do can change the memories, the life I lived, but how do I deal with the fact that in time I’ll have more and more memories and less and less of the individuals with them?
As if it were yesterday I remember my grandmother holding me against her chest and comforting me. I remember my grandfather having us recite our multiplication tables to him on a Sunday afternoon. Then there’s the thoughts of the way the breeze felt as I sat with them on their veranda and listened to 50s music.
With each passing day I struggle with how to allow them to be more a part of my world while accepting that there will be a life without them. I know that it isn’t enough to know and feel the love I have for them. I have to show them what they mean to me while they are still here. It’s better for them to know rather than have them wonder about how I really feel.
This article appeared on page 5A in the 7/11/12 issue of The Union-Recorder under the title, “It’s so hard to say goodbye.”