Last weekend, my husband and I took our granddaughter to college. She is a freshman at a small, historic, respected college in Iowa. We are excited about her college choice and acceptance. But our emotions are tugged in two directions — caregiving and letting go — and this is an uncomfortable place.
We have been raising our twin grandchildren ever since their parents died of the injuries they sustained in separate car crashes. When the twins moved in with us, they were 15 1/2 years old, a vulnerable age at best, and an especially vulnerable age for grieving teens.
Our grandparenting goals were basic: care for the kids, protect them from harm, nurture their minds and spirits, and love them more each day. Both kids graduated from high school with honors and received scholarships. We are proud of their accomplishments and proud to be their grandparents.
Starting college is a big step, and it takes time to become familiar with the campus, curriculum, and other students. Though we are no longer their legal guardians, we are still GRGs — grandparents raising grandchildren — and our goals remain the same. We have turned over their finances and the management of them to the kids, and they know we are always ready and willing to help.
Taking my granddaughter to college was a happy-sad experience. Next week, we take our grandson to a state university, and I know I will feel the same. As happy as I am for the twins, I miss my deceased daughter, who should have been part of these historic events. She would have been so proud of her children and the outstanding young adults they have become.
So my eyes filled with tears, and I made my granddaughter’s bed. This happy-sad experience boils down to letting go. I let go of my daughter, father-in-law, brother, and former son-in-law, who all died in 2007.
Western Washington University, in a website article titled “Coping with Grief,” says caregivers need to take the time to let go. Letting go is one of the hardest things we have to do, the article continues, and life is really a series of letting go experiences.
“Letting go reminds us that we are not in control of life,” the article notes.
Because I have suffered multiple losses and studied grief, I knew letting go meant being open to different experiences. In his book, Life After Loss, author Bob Deits describes letting go as opening a new door. He thinks the life we create for ourselves after a loss “seems to offer its own joys.”
I’m so proud of my grandchildren I could shout their praises from rooftops. Heather Lende, in her book, Take Care of the Garden and the Dogs, describes joy in few words. “You can’t have real joy if you don’t understand what real sorrow is,” she writes. Since I have known real sorrow, I was able to savor joy when it came to me.
Surely many joyful days are ahead.
Copyright 2010 by Harriet Hodgson