My mother’s recent yahrzeit after Pesach, coupled with Yom HaZikaron and recent Yom Tovim and Shabbatot spent with my children and grandchildren, has cemented my belief that I was robbed of a major life asset – my grandparents. While I knew that having them was a life-enhancing relationship, I didn’t truly comprehend it until I became one.
In terms of life’s milestones and-life changing situations, I’ve concluded that you have to “be there” or have to have “done that” in order to truly grasp the concept and totally fathom it. You have to walk in the shoes in order to understand the path. It really doesn’t matter how much reading or research someone does, for unless you experience something, it’s hard to truly “get it.” That is why there are support groups for all kinds of situations – i.e. bereaved parents, and those with addictions – consisting only of people who have lived through the same things.
While growing up, I had no idea what I was missing not having grandparents. It’s hard to miss what you don’t have. I knew it would have been nice to have a bubby and zayde, but it wasn’t part of my reality.
Over the years I gained some insight into the world of grandparents through my children’s interactions with their grandparents, but it was still as an “outsider.” It is only now when I myself am a bubby that I see how special and enriching that relationship is. I find myself pleasantly taken aback when the “older” kids (the three who can walk) run to me when I open the door, or want to talk to me on the phone when I’m speaking with their parents. It is a novelty, something sadly new to me. If I had had grandparents, no doubt I would not be surprised by my grandchildren’s reactions. But I am, because I never experienced the life of a grandchild.
Only once in my life did I taste that, and I still reel from its memory. On a visit to Israel when I was 19, I was introduced to a very old man at a gathering. In my young eyes, he looked beyond ancient. I barely gave him a glance, and he certainly had no interest in this teenaged girl from Canada. But then someone brought me over to say hello, and I identified myself. He suddenly perked up, peered in my face, and asked me in Yiddish, “Du bist Shimele’s einekel? – Are you Shimon’s grandchild?” I remember being floored by that statement. I was someone’s daughter, sister, cousin, friend – but I had never been viewed as or called someone’s grandchild.
It was a very bittersweet moment. I knew this was the first and last time in my life I would be referred to as a grandchild. I cherish that moment, and mourn it as the loss of such a crucial aspect of my childhood. I know that had I grown with the unconditional love, praise and support that is the gift grandparents bestow on their children’s children, I may have avoided some of the potholes that tripped me on my life’s journey.
Below is a poem in memory of my grandparents, who were murdered in the Shoah and who I still mostly associate with the flickering yahrzeit candles of my childhood.
For me there was no bubby,
To whom I was a cherished guest.
For me there was nozaide,
Convinced I was the best.
For me there was no grandpa,
To tickle me when I was sad.
For me there was no grandma
I could run to when Mommy was mad.
For me there were no grandparents,
With open arms and a welcoming lap.
Patiently listening to my chatter,
Or spinning tales that held me rapt.
For me there are no memories
Of the older generation I never knew.
No loving experiences to remember,
No magical moments to review.
I have no sweet recollections
Over which I can nod and smile.
To give them life inside my mind,
If only for a little while.
For me there are no gravesites,
Where I can go and shed a tear.
And share my thoughts with those long gone,
And feel that they are still near.
In my heart there is an empty space,
For my childhood contained a hole.
I had no past to guide my future,
A lacking that still takes a toll.
For me there were no elders,
The family albums were never whole.
For at birth I was a “grand-orphan,”
A deprivation that still gnaws at my soul.