My favorite thing about summer in the Berkshires, in addition to the explosion of life–the puffiness of the alliums, the sweetness of the tomatoes–is the visit of our granddaughter, Sienna.
The first year she came, one night as we were talking before bed, she said, “Meme, how old are you?”
“Sixty,” I replied.
Reaching across me, she grabbed a sheet of paper and a pencil from the night table and began calculating.
“When I’m 10, you’ll be 64. I’m getting married when I’m 24.”
She looked down at her paper, jotted down some numbers, and looked up at me. “You’ll be almost 80,” she said. That’s old, Meme. You might be…dead…by the time I get married.”
Pretty smart, I was thinking, when she threw her arms around me, sobbing. Homesickness had made her a little weepy, but this was different. She loved me!
“It’s OK, sweetie. I won’t be 80 for a long, long time. You don’t have to worry about that now,” I said, rocking her in my arms, brushing away errant strands of her blonde hair.
Her sobs gave way to whimpers and finally she fell asleep. I began thinking about the words that had comforted her. They had once consoled me–on the day I first confronted the abyss….
We would all die. I gasped with horror at the thought. I was 10 and happily reading White Fang in bed when the fight with the murderous bulldog left White Fang near death. If this noble creature could die, couldn’t anyone? I flung the book aside, rushing into the living room where my parents were watching television. I pushed my sister Mary Ann away to snuggle next to my mother on the sofa.
“Watch it, Jeanie,” Mary Ann said, moving to reclaim her space.
“Oh yeah? Well, you’re going to die,” I blurted out. “You and Daddy and Mommy, me–all of us.”
My mother wrapped an arm around me and said, “It’s true, everybody dies eventually, but that won’t happen for a long, long time. You don’t have to worry about that now.” I saw my father wink at my mother, smiling. Maybe inevitable death wasn’t so bad. I embraced the logic of putting off my despair until someone had actually died.
“OK, you two, bedtime,” my father said….
I glanced over at Sienna sleeping in the moonlight streaming through the open window. From the garden, I caught the scent of roses, planted in memory of my parents. I pulled the quilt over her shoulders. Not for a long, long time, I thought, and drifted off to sleep.
Jean Moore retired from her job in corporate education and training to pursue her passions: visiting and being visited by her three beautiful granddaughters, writing, and teaching yoga–in that order.
Books about loss, to comfort grandchildren
Until We Meet Again
By Susan Jones; illustrated by Shirley Antak. 50/50 Publishing, 2007. Available from bookofferings.com.
Between one winsome grandfather and one lucky little boy are keepsakes of the heart…memories made by the two of them for all time. But their time together is coming to an end. Told with insight and tenderness, this is the story of what comes next for a little boy who discovers that memories aren’t just about what happened yesterday, but what we do every day to make the most of time with the people we love.
Papa’s Gift: An Inspirational Story of Love and Loss
A poignant story of the love and loss between a little girl and her grandfather. They are the best of friends. They do everything together–make snow chickens and snowflake sandwiches. They make up funny words and stories until one day Papa Clarence falls ill and eventually dies. Through a special gift Clara had received from Papa, she begins to understand that although she can’t see her grandfather with her eyes anymore, she can always see him with her heart.
Grandmother, Have the Angels Come?
To a child, the aging of a loved one can be a puzzling and even worrisome progression, and it can be difficult to answer the whys and hows of grandparents’ changing appearance in a way that young ones will understand. With its lyrical text and vibrant artwork, the story is a celebration of the bond between grandparent and grandchild, while exploring the subject of aging in a sensitive, subtle manner.
Abuelita’s Paradise/ El Paraíso de Abuelita
By Carmen Santiago Nodar; illustrated by Diane Paterson. In English or Spanish. Ages 4-8. Albert Whitman & Co., 1992. Out of print, but available used from Barnes & Noble.
Lovely watercolor drawings enhance this story of Marita, a young Puerto Rican girl who is comforted by special memories as she sits in a rocking chair left to her from her grandmother, her Abuelita. Exceptional for its reassuring, sensitive approach, lush island locale, and glimpse into another culture and language.
JEAN P. MOORE