My last living grandparent died March 25, 2013 at the age of 97. Some friends and co-workers were extending their condolences until the heard the “97” part. I have to give them some freedom to feel that way. There are very few people I know who are 46 (like me) and who still have living grandparents. Most of my friends of a like age have lost one of both parents.Indeed, I recognized how blessed I have been to have my grandparents as long as I had them all. Rather than being bogged down in grief, I celebrate the family connections I have.
After learning the news of my grandmother’s death, I paused to say a little prayer and then went on with my day.
In all honesty, I was never as close to this set of grandparents growing up as I was to my other set of grandparents who lived down the road from me. I saw them every couple of summers when we went to Minnesota on vacation. I only ever saw my paternal grandparents a handful of times. Still, as I went through the day, grandma’s death weighed on my mind much more than I expected it would.
Today as I was cleaning some things off the desk in my home office, I came across the last letter I received from her. One of my fondest memories of her was the certainty that I would receive a birthday and Christmas card from her with a letter updating me on everything that was going on in her life. For a person over 90, she stayed busy. The last time I saw her, she and I spent time cleaning out an aunt’s flower bed as the spring plants were getting ready to sprout.
Because I saw my paternal grandmother so rarely growing up, I am not mourning her in the same way I mourned my maternal grandparents. My grief this time is focused on the passing of a generation. She was the last grandparent I (and many of my cousins) had. The elder status has moved down to my parents’ generation, and will, in time move down to mine. It is the progression of ages.
One reason I am thinking so much about the idea of generations in the family is that there are cousins who live (or at least were raised) in Minnesota whom I have never met. They were born after I made my last visit in 1985. Visits with my relatives since then have either occurred when they passed through Austin or when I made my way up to Wichita. How will the hierarchy work in the coming generations? That I do not know many of my cousins is not unusual among my friends. Like me, because the family lives so far apart, there are relatives they have never seen.
I always wonder when I am traveling whether or not I am randomly passing by a unknown cousin. I have run into old college acquaintances in airports; I suppose a cousin would be just as likely. The cousins I have never seen are much harder to recognize.
With luck, I will be attending a conference in Minneapolis in the next few months and will have the chance to connect with some of those cousins I have not seen since the mid-80’s. (or ever). Perhaps through those contacts, the next generations can remain connected - at least somewhat as what has always been a very large family continues to grow.