When my son was born he was the luck recipient of an enormous amount of love from five great-grandparents. Five great-grandparents did all they could to spoil him and his sibling and cousins rotten. And of course two sets of grandparents are guilty of aiding and abetting them in their efforts.
Part of my great joy at becoming a father was watching the joy in their faces as they played with him. When we would take him to see them I would often just sit and watch them interact. In some ways it was like revisiting my own childhood. They brought out the old tricks and games that they had stopped playing with me and share them with someone new.
And sometimes I’d close my eyes and listen and for just a moment I was ten and I could smell the smoke from my grandfather’s cigars. I could hear them argue about the best place to get a hot dog in Chicago…in 1934. And then I’d open my eyes and just be thankful that my son was able to get some time with them because I knew that it wouldn’t be that long.
And it wasn’t. When he was a bit short of three my grandmother died. He was too young to understand and too young for lasting memories. He recognizes her picture. He knows her name but he doesn’t really remember just how much she loved him. And his sister, well she never got a chance to meet her. Sometimes she asks why there are pictures of her other great-grandmothers holding her and not that one.
It has been more than 18 months since my grandfather died. Sometimes when she sees his picture she says his name and then mentions that he died. Death is a concept that is just beginning to take root, but even now it is little fuzzy for her.
Her brother is a different story. He is old enough to understand what it means and to be concerned about it. Sometimes he asks me very pointed questions about what kind of lifespan he should expect from the surviving three great-grandparents. I answer him honestly that I don’t know.
Tonight he told me that I should ask G-d. So I told him that I thought that he is big enough to ask himself. He told me that he already had and that G-d was ignoring him, but because I am bigger he can’t ignore me. I told him that it didn’t really work that way. So he asked me if there was a better way to talk to G-d.
I told him that we all have to find our own way to talk to G-d and that sometimes the best answer was found by just listening to your heart. For the moment that seems to have satisfied him, but I still found it tough to accept.
Or maybe it is the knowledge that so much can change in the blink of an eye. One of these days I am going to have to have another hard discussion with them. It is the price we pay for having been so fortunate to have them around for so long.