I always knew there was a range of emotions to encounter in grief, but I didn’t count on humor being one of them.
We were sitting down to dinner on the day my grandfather died. On my own, I had already told the children the news one-by-one, something that needed to be done because my husband was in another state at a colleague’s mother’s funeral and our kids’ age spread meant they wouldn’t be able to process the info in the same way. We had all been together in Seattle just a week before to celebrate my grandparents’ 75th wedding anniversary. Telling the kids that their 94-year old great-grandfather – who had seemed the picture of health – had suddenly entered heaven came as a shock to them, to say the least. Kids are never prepared. But then again, are any of us?
Everyone was happy that it was ‘breakfast for dinner’ – pancakes, eggs, fruit and OJ, but about 5 minutes into the meal my 7-year old son asked, “Where’s the pork roll?” – a Philadelphia favorite and weekend staple in our house.
I let out a frustrated sigh that I wasn’t aware I’d been holding in.
“I forgot it, alright? Bestefar died today and I forgot the pork roll. We’ll be fine without it.”
Then I promptly burst into tears.
My 11-year old daughter dropped her fork and in a shaky voice said, “Oh, Mom! Are you ok?”
Banging his fist on the table – young man of the house – my teenage son declared, “Clearly, she is NOT ok!!”
Turning to me, he said – a little too loudly, “MOM! If you need to go lie down, or…or…or take a break…or something…you just do that, OK?”
Then, to my left, a sweet little 7-year old’s voice said, “Mom?”
In a state of disbelief, I turned to my youngest son.
“Yes?” I said.
“Are you thinking dark thoughts?”
It was all I could do not to burst into fits of laughter.
Maturity in three stages spread out before me. The 7-year old had forgotten the day’s events. The 11-year old could only feel empathy. And the 14-year old was desperately trying to control the situation.
It was a foreshadowing of my own grieving process – the one I would go through in the weeks ahead.
Grandpa passed in January and Grandma passed in March, and every day I’m in one of these three stages: denial, empathy and sadness, or trying to regain a footing. My grandparents meant more to me than most people may realize. Despite the geographical distance between us, they were a firm foundation in my life; I counted on them for stability and strength in ways that only now are becoming apparent to me.
And I’ve been rather silent on this blog as I try to process that realization, focusing instead on just getting through the days. But this morning I realized yet again that what they were to me is what I have been called to be to others. The mantle is passed in this way from generation to generation. And if I spend my life trying to emulate theirs, I will have succeeded in giving my children the precious gifts my grandparents gave to me. These three things abide: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)