Today I had to tell my little boy that his grandfather died. My father-in-law’s death was sudden, and my heart broke for my sweet boy when I told him that his Papa had died. All I could do was wrap him in my arms and hold tight. Until he pulled his head back, took my face in his little hands and said, “Mama, you need to blow your nose. You keep sniffing in.” Then I laughed. He smiled, kissed my cheek and told me he loved me, then scampered off my lap to play with the bowling set he has set up in the family room. Normal, everyday routine.
I know what it’s like to lose a grandfather. I lost my mother’s father, my Grampy, in 1987. I was 18 when he died, and I miss him always. Every time something wonderful happens, I hope he knows about it and is happy for me. Each time I accomplish something, I hope he knows and is proud of me. When my son was born, I thought how much he would have loved to have another great grandson. When I got married the first time, I hoped he would approve; when I got divorced, I knew he would be angry at my ex-husband for the way he treated me. When I married my Ernie Hemingway, I knew Grampy would be happy that I had found someone to love and with whom I could build a life. And every holiday season, when I pull out my tree and all the decorations I miss him desperately. Still, even after all this time.
My heart aches for my husband, who lost his father. I want to put my arms around him and absorb all the pain for him, take it away so that he can smile again. I know he will someday smile again, but I would give anything for him not to hurt until then. I will do whatever he needs me to do in the coming days, pushing my own grief to the back of the line so that I can help him, hold him through his own tears and the waves of grief, and perhaps in that way take some of the blows for him. I want to comfort him, but I know that what he wants most I cannot give.
I will sit with my husband and his brothers, his mother, his children, in the coming days and nights. I will hold open my arms for anyone to nestle in, to claim a hug should they need one. I will cry when I think about what a good man my father-in-law was. I will know how fortunate I am that my husband was raised by such a remarkable man and that my son got to spend time with him. I will feel lucky to have known him for as long as I did. I will murmur to my husband how blessed he is to have had such a father, and how proud his father was of him. And someday, when my little boy finally understands that his grandfather is gone and comes to me crying, I will tell him how lucky he was to have been loved by his Papa, and how honored his Papa felt to be loved by him.