Gram without Gramp!

Grandpa died one month after his 71st birthday, leaving behind my grief stricken Grandma who had no clue how to proceed in her new solo life after all those many years of marriage. They had married at a young age and as time passed, they had six children with only three surviving past infancy. Two boys and a girl survived infancy and the girl was my Mother.

I remember my grandparents so well because as a child we spent a lot of time at their house. My Mother was their only daughter and they treasured her existence. I think she would have been a little surprised to hear this because their Swedish ways were not naturally expressive. They did not tell you they loved you…They just assumed you should understand this as a fact. They also did not show their affection with impulsive hugs or any display of affection. They felt their love was best expressed by providing for their children, and they provided well.

As children, we loved going to their home and we felt a grandchild’s pride of ownership in their small one story home. They kept their house in pristine condition. The house exterior was white painted clapboard and the window frames were painted a soft green. The front of the house sported a covered porch where two rocking chairs sat facing the front lawn. Grandpa and Grandma would sit and watch local traffic buzz by on the small rural country road that ran by the front of their house. Their house sat on a corner property where their street intersected with the narrow country road. Because their home sat on a rise of land which overlooked the road, they had the perfect spot from which to “watch the world go by” as Grandma used to say. They had a number of flower beds fronting their property with large sweeping bands of color enhancing the view for people driving down the road past their place.

Both Grandpa and Grandma were born and raised in this small rural community and after they married, they remained and raised their children here as well. As a child, I enjoyed visiting them often and loved immersing myself into their quiet existence. They were very good Grandparents and despite their humble lifestyle, they were happy in their community and they enjoyed having easy access to their Grandchildren.

Many years passed by and then the unthinkable happened. Grandpa died before Gram. She was lost without him, so my Mother invited her to come and stay with us in town, which she did. She enjoyed living with her daughter and Granddaughters but began to miss her home of over 40 years, so my Mother drove her up to her home and dropped her off with arrangements to come back the following Saturday to pick her up.

That week in her home was very heartbreaking for Gram. The house no longer felt like home without Grandpa and she felt like a stranger in her own community. Friends had all become old and many had passed away. New people had moved in which made a lifelong community feel a little foreign to her.

The following Saturday, as my Mother turned into the driveway, she saw Gram standing outside, suitcase packed and on the ground beside her.. As Gram got into the car, Mom asked her how things had worked out for her and Grandma said “Well, when I decided I wanted to go back home for a visit, I assumed it would all be the same as I had left it. Instead, what I discovered is that our home is now just a house without your Father there!” As she spoke, she dabbed away at tears that had begun to trickle down her face.


My husbands parents owned a farm which sat on 80 acres of land. It was a beautiful place with wide sweeping views on which sat a large two story farmhouse with a long deep front porch overlooking the fields. There was a huge barn and various other buildings that held machinery, chickens, cows and corn, all of which were painted white. This group of buildings sat at the end of a long country lane surrounded by corn fields. They raised two children on this farm, a boy and a girl, and my husband was their first born and their son.

They were blessed with 6 Grandchildren who would often go and stay with them on the farm. The children enjoyed the wide open spaces and reveled in spending time with their cousins while exploring the interiors of many of the different buildings. They all ran and played as they crossed tall green pasture land and often returned looking like dirty little vagrant children. The more dirt, the better. They enjoyed biking down the long dirt driveway to the mailbox to gather mail. This mailbox sat alongside the gravel road that went past their farm property. Grandpa would take each of them for rides on his riding lawn mower and even let them steer! Now that was a great feeling of power to a younger child. How quickly all those years passed by, and sooner than one can imagine, the grandchildren were all grown up and had moved on into living busy lives of their own.

As their health began to decline, Grandpa made the decision to sell their farm. They held an auction on the Centennial farm where my husbands father was born and raised. They chose the things they would take with them to their small Senior apartment in town, and everything else was sold or donated that day. I still remember my Mother in law walking around the large circular drive, tears streaming down her face as grieved the loss of the contents of her home which held memories of a lifetime. So many things that had given her much joy through the years now sat on big trailer beds waiting to be sold. The sunlight was not nearly as kind to the appearance of their possessions as had been the soft interior lighting inside the old farmhouse. My heart broke along with hers as I watched her linger in front of things she had collected and cherished over the years. I know the loss of her home felt like a death to her.

Time passed again and some years later, Grandpa died. With the passing of Grandpa, Grandma’s dementia deepened and we were not even sure if she was aware of the loss of her husband. 6 months later, her two children and I sat at her bedside knowing her life was coming to an end. Her daughter sat on one side of her bed and my husband and I sat on the other side and as we were casually conversing, we heard her breathing change. We stopped talking and watched a smile appear on her face. Her expression kept changing and the smile grew broader until she took her last breath. We had no doubt that she was greeted and welcomed to her eternal home.


Around the same time that my husbands parents sold their farm, my parents were having their own aging struggles. My Dad had a stroke not long after he retired which he seemed to recover from fairly well. He was dealing with macular degeneration so his eyesight was impaired.. Mom now had to drive and as time passed, he suffered little mini strokes which contributed to a cognitive decline. They put their house on the market because their bedrooms and bathroom were all upstairs and he could no longer manage the stairs. Here, too, I watched a lifetime of accumulation gathered up and put out to be sold or donated.

These Grandparents were the ones who always arranged fishing trips to Canada for the whole family. We were always eager to be part of this trip every time he made plans and we formed a caravan of 5 vehicles each time we made the trip. Those were such fun days for all involved and one year, my Dad caught “the big one”! It was a 35 pound trout and as he pulled into the dock area there was much excitement and chatter about his good fortune. To this day, memories of these fishing trips are among the most treasured of the grandchildren.

These Grandparents introduced to the larger family a card game named “Peruvian Rummy“, a game they learned while living in South America. The game caught on immediately and was a tool for all of us to interact and bond during friendly competition. There were many, many nights of endless rounds of Rummy as we each focused on becoming the winner of the game.

I also remember Grandpa taking the kids skiing in the northern snowy woods by pulling them behind his truck using a water ski rope. They swished and swooped down old logging trails in the same fashion as when one waterskis behind a boat. The kids enjoyed the feeling of the soft cold snow dusting their faces as it blew off the trees when they whizzed past the low hanging branches.

My parents graciously agreed to come and stay long periods of times at our house (almost as a second set of parents) to give a sense of continuity to our children when we would travel extensively with my husbands job.

But, just as with the others, time passed and it became apparent that they needed to make a location change to suit their new health conditions.

I remember the last day in their house before turning the keys over to the new owner. Mom and I were doing last minute touch ups to the cleaning and clearing out, and we each had a moment where we looked at each other with heart felt emotion. Our eyes locked in place as we felt the mutual sense of loss knowing that this was the final chapter in their home. We embraced each other, but neither of us said a word. There really is no comfort language available that one can use to say goodbye to a place which contained so many memories….memories of holidays and vacations spent there with three generations laughing, loving, socializing and bonding! We walked to the side door of the house and stepped outside. Mom locked the door and put the key in an envelope and slipped it under the door mat as was previously agreed with the new owner.

They, too, moved to a Senior Apartment and Dad died within a year and a half of that move. Mom lived alone following his death for an additional 11 years until one night, following a minor surgery, she too died.


As I age, I think about our parents and Grandparents more and more frequently and find that I have so many questions I would like to ask them now that would be pertinent to this time in our life.

I find myself remembering back in time to a day when it was my Mother in laws 72nd birthday. I was in my 30’s at the time and I impulsively asked this question.

“What’s it like to be 72, Verona?”

She looked at me for a minute and said, “Well, you know….when you are your age and you hear the number 72, it seems like it is a long, long way down the road! But when you are the one who is 72, you look back in time and realize it goes like this” (and she snapped her finger).

Each year when her birthday comes around, I look upwards toward heaven and say, “There went another one, Verona, just like that!” And I proceed to snap my finger.

Indeed, life passes faster than anyone can fully realize. For those of us who have been blessed to live into our golden years, we begin to see the fragility of life and how quickly it passes us by. I reflect a lot more these days on my past and all the people I have known and all experiences I have had along the way. What suited us in the early years in the way of a home or material goods does not necessarily suit us now, which is why I continue to send things out the door, back to the universe where someone else may find good use for whatever item I am relinquishing.

I try to stay focused on all that is good in the moment and count my blessings every day. My Mother in law was so right all those years ago when she said “looking back…..” As this thought passes through my consciousness, I snap my finger like she did.

Indeed! It surely does go by that fast! Savor the moment for no one knows how many they are going to get!


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