In 2007, my twin grandchildren’s parents died from the injuries they received in separate car crashes. The twin’s mother, our daughter, listed my husband and me as the twin’s guardians in her will. Suddenly we were GRGs, grandparents raising grandchildren. The twins, one boy and one girl, came to live with us when they were 15 years old. Suddenly, we were reliving the teenage years.
We attended gymnastics meets, choir concerts, marching band concerts, and other high school events. Seven years passed, and during this time, we melded into a grand family. When the twins left for college, we were empty nesters again. Both of the twins graduated from college with high honors and Phi Beta Kappa distinctions. To our surprise, each of them secured a meaningful job.
Several months ago, our granddaughter became engaged and she asked my husband to escort her down the aisle on her wedding day. Her request was touching because my husband is paralyzed and will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. I am my husband’s caregiver and we have outside help four hours a day. On the day of the wedding, our caregiver stayed an extra hour to get my husband ready for the ceremony.
He looked so handsome in his white dress shirt, dark gray slacks, and paisley tie. We drove to the church and mingled with other members of the wedding party, including our grandson, who was an usher. The music began. The groom escorted me down the aisle to my pew and I sat down. My surviving daughter handed me some tissues. “Brace yourself, Mom,” she said. “There is going to be a slide show with Helen.”
Just as the photo montage began, I looked up at the screen. I saw our deceased daughter, smiling and holding a twin in each arm. There were photos of our daughter with toddlers and grade school children. Photo after photo, years passed in minutes before my eyes, and I began to cry. Then the music changed and members of the wedding party processed down the aisle. My husband wheeled his chair slow, with our granddaughter by his side, her arm linked in his as if he were walking.
This picture made me cry harder. Grief – all those feelings I thought were under control – bubbled to the surface. I felt like my daughter died yesterday. Would sadness be my wedding memory? Thankfully, it is not. Other memories, the adorable flower girl scattering fall leaves, the “potluck extravaganza” reception, and the shining love of the bride and groom, are stronger. All in all, it was a beautiful, thoughtful, memorable day.
But I re-learned something I had almost forgotten: Without any warning, grief can reach out and grab us by the throat. We feel the same feelings and think the same thoughts as we did when our loved ones died. It takes immense effort and discipline to bring us back to the present.
Grief will grab us again and again as long we live. Because we loved someone deeply and still love them, we grieve. Still, we can savor the moment and feel joy, something our loved ones would want us to do. We can think of each joyful experience as a tribute to them.