If I’m being honest, I’ve thought more about my grandparents in the past two years than I had in my previous 26 years of life. Over the past two years, I’ve learned a lot about my regrets and hopes for the future when it comes to family. I wish I had known these lessons earlier in life, and I write this piece with this hope for you in mind: may my mistakes be blessings to you so that you don’t make the same ones as me.
I was fortunate enough to have all four of my grandparents until I was 15, when I lost my maternal grandpa, and my last one, my paternal grandmom, died just recently. I didn’t know them nearly as well as I now realize I wish I had. I took time to learn and process my regrets and hopes when I had the privilege of doing my hospital chaplain residency in Minnesota, more than a thousand miles than where I had grown up in New Jersey. I worked with many older adults, so many of whom knew their grandkids so well. “I love seeing them three times a week!” “I just met my great-grandchild recently.” “We have family dinners every Sunday night.” I grew up long distances from my grandparents on both sides, and I’m sad to say that I only called them occasionally, and it wasn’t usually with much joy; I felt like I had to do it. I usually saw both sets about twice a year, and we’d spend multiple days together. Those were joyful times, and I’m now realizing how much more precious they were than I understood.
When my patients told me stories about their families, people they knew so, so well, I felt a pang in my heart. This isn’t to say that their families were perfect; no family is. But I missed these special opportunities they shared about to get to know my grandparents better, in part because of the distance, but also because I didn’t call or write them often. I rarely thanked them properly and fully for the gifts they offered. I know now what huge deals they were. My maternal grandparents set up college funds for my sister, cousins, and I long before we were old enough to attend school, long before they knew what we would grow up to do with our lives, because they just… believed in us. My paternal grandparents built a cottage from the ground up along Lake Michigan that my cousins and I will inherit someday, because they just… wanted us to have a beautiful place to rest and enjoy the best parts of life.
I wish I had noticed and appreciated these blessings from them earlier – the reality that they themselves were blessings. I am planning my future in a way that reflects hopes based on what I’ve learned from my regrets. I want to stay within 100 miles of my family so that if I am blessed with children or nieces and nephews someday, my parents, sister, and stepsiblings know them well, and I know mine well. I used to want to move far away. I still hope to move somewhere I consider more beautiful than the East Coast at some point, but family has taken the number one spot in my heart.
Thank you, Minnesota and the amazing grandparents I met who reflected the amazingness of my own. Thank you, my paternal GranDD, for passing on to me your love of knowledge and your quick wit. Thank you, my paternal Grandmom, for passing on to me your hospitality and your generosity of spirit. Thank you, my maternal Grandpa, for passing on to me your ability to make peace and bring calm and your loud laugh that made your whole face light up. Thank you, my maternal Grandma, for passing on to me your love of foreign languages and your passion for reading. I represent a mix of the four of them and the way they shaped my parents into the people they are.
I walk with a bit more courage in the world because I know that they believed in me and celebrated me. One of the last pictures my Grandma saw of me was me in my graduation gown on the day that I finished seminary. One of the last things I told my Grandmom was that I was just a few steps away from finishing the ordination process and becoming a Reverend. I wore rings from both of them on my ordination day. Their hearts were full, and so is mine to this day when I think about each of the four of them.
May you learn from my mistakes and experience this fullness sooner, before it’s too late. Don’t miss a single moment.