As the holidays approach, the ache in my heart increases. Last year the holidays were marked by a thundering silence from my son and his family. At the last minute I got to see the children and meet my new granddaughter for a single hour, on Christmas Eve, in a mall at closing time. The children were already restless from shopping and having their portraits taken with Santa, so it was impossible to really interact with them much. I never did learn whether the children were actually given the gifts I sent, whether they liked them, whether they fit. I’ve seen no pictures. I haven’t seen Christmas pictures in years. It’s always “someday.”
The months pass like a river in flood, rushing onward, carrying my babies into a future where I’m nothing more than a shadow at the edge of their lives. Holidays are carried by like so much flotsam on the surface, leaving behind ghostly images of distant laughter and warmth I’m not allowed to glimpse. I can read on their mother’s blog all about the fun they had with their other grandparents, but that’s as close as I can come.
Young children are such ephemeral creatures, never the same from one day to the next. Babies are the most fleeting of all. Every day I wonder what my little stars-in-my-sky are like now, what they’re doing, what they’re learning. Is Sabrina walking now? Has Max learned to read? Is Maddy still dancing? And I wonder, too, if their parents really understand what they’re doing. That this is something that can never be taken back. No do-overs. They can never give back, to me or to their children, the chance to bond and form a relationship from their earliest days. The kind of relationship that grounds a child in love for life and builds an unbreakable safety net for their hearts. The kind of relationship that soothes a mother’s heart as her world falls apart around her, lightening the burdens of job loss, home loss, health loss, family loss. Instead, I’m a paper grandmother, an insubstantial semi-abstract surrounded by a cloud of quiet, adamant anger.
If hearts were softened tomorrow and things suddenly normalized, there would still always be an empty place in the relationship where that early bonding should have been. The ties will always be weaker. For my part, my love will never be completely free of the pain and uncertainty of knowing that we can be separated again on a whim, for simply saying one wrong thing, or failing to say one right one. For being too broke to send a gift on time. For needing help. For making the children too happy. Even for simply asking to included.
It’s much like living with someone who is terminally ill. Every day could be the last. Every day you prepare to say goodbye. Every night you fall asleep in uncertainty. With each day, my grandchildren become a little more abstract in my heart, concepts rather than real people. Eventually, the heart wears out, forever poised between living and loss.
And one day, when you can’t hold on any longer, you have to let go.