Sept. 12 is a special day in the lives of millions of older Americans — "Grandparents' Day," a day set aside to honor those fortunate enough to have grandchildren and to thank them for their contributions to the lives of those grandchildren. As grandfather to six, ranging in age from 1 to 22 years old, I find it especially important this year, when many grandparents have been called to special duty, helping their families by caring for their grandchildren during pandemic shutdowns. For many grandparents, however, today will be a bittersweet day, one intermingled with a mixture of joy and sadness.
First the joy: reliving through their grandchildren many of the enjoyable stages of childhood they first experienced with their own children, from infant to toddler to preteen and beyond — without many of the pressures that they had as parents. This often comes with the added benefit of being able to hand the grandchildren back to their parents at the end of a visit, perhaps just as the children are becoming tired and cranky. The kisses, the waves goodbye — and then the door closes. Ah, peace and quiet again. The fun without most of the fuss. The best of all possible worlds. Or is it?
Each passing day may bring a hint of sadness to the grandparent as the realization lurks in the background that, as much as they may love and cherish their grandchildren, they will inevitably be absent from much of their lives in the future. Especially in the case of younger children, grandparents must face the sad truth that they might not live long enough to experience many of the milestones of the children's lives: to be present at various graduation ceremonies, see them start their careers, move out into the world on their own, perhaps marry and have their own children, to share in the joys and help them through sorrows that may come their way. As much as he or she might want to hold onto those days and live to experience those moments and memories, the grandparent is faced with the inexorability of the passage of time. While individual days seem to crawl, the years fly by for them.
For grandparents, the words of a Jim Croce song "Time in a Bottle" may carry a special poignancy when they think of their grandchildren: "If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I'd like to do, is to save every day like a treasure and then again I would spend them with you."
Of course, there is no such "bottle" in which to "save every day like a treasure." There is only the now to enjoy and cherish, as Billy Joel entreated in "The Time to Remember": "This is the time to remember 'cause it will not last forever. These are the days to hold on to, (but) we can't although we'll want to."
What solace there is for grandparents can be found in the poem "Dying Too Young," by Ken Harris: "Life doesn't end until the last person forgets your existence, until the last person speaks your name." Grandparents can have the hope that they are leaving indelible marks of love in the hearts and minds of their grandchildren; that even when grandparents are no longer physically present in their grandchildren's lives, grandparents will long be remembered for the love and caring they had for those children. In that way, grandparents will live on for many years in the memories of those they leave behind.
Until then, today is the "time to remember" grandparents, a day to celebrate those who are still with us. It is their special day.
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