The Whisper to Every Grandchild: Know You Are Unconditionally Loved and Valuable To Someone
The role of a grandparent has been on my mind lately. I’ve been trying to put my finger on what kind of grandparent I want to be, and at times, I think, I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. I lack the experience of growing up with grandparents, as both sets of my grandparents had passed before I was born. Because I live on a different coast than my family, my children have had limited contact with their grandparents. When I was young, I made a promise to myself to be an involved and an interested grandparent, because it would have meant a lot to me as a bee-bop kind of kid to have an older mentor looking out for me, keeping me accountable, and mirroring positive ways of living to me.
A few years ago, I gave an assignment to my high school students to write an autobiography. My students were 16-17 years old and many of them had already experienced a lot of life, even though if you asked them, most would say, “I don’t have anything to write about.” One of my students turned in a paper, like a time release medicine tablet, it has been helping me to grow in the inside, and over time it has been making me a better person.
Joe (this student’s name has been changed to protect his privacy) was a thoughtful, congenial, easy-going, and talented young man. He always impressed me as a solid, salt of the earth, kind of person. His family was gifted in the business of sales. He had three brothers, and he was gifted in doing service work and student leadership. The year I taught Joe, I remember looking at the stack of autobiographies, taking a deep breath, and diving in not knowing what I was going to find. When I came to Joe’s paper, I thought to myself, “This will be an encouraging story.” I felt sure this fellow had a good life. But as I turned the pages of this student’s experience, I was shocked to read how stressful life had become. Life had become so overwhelming, he was at the point of making a plan and gathering all of the equipment to end his life. On the afternoon he went to make his plan a reality, everything was ready to go in the garage, and then he paused, and in his autobiography he shared who slowed down his plan to end it all that day, his grandmother. He began thinking of how sad she would be. He realized how grieved she would be without him in her life, and he didn’t want to hurt her or upset her if she found him. He couldn’t go through with his plan. When Joe was most stressed and weakened by life, it was his grandmother who came to mind. She was the voice in his head; it was her beautiful, thoughtful, and loving voice of reassurance shaping his value, meaning, and very existence in life. What we all would give to have such a person in our lives! I was stunned, and somewhat frozen about what to do with the paper in my hands. How do I respond to such raw emotion? And how do I put a letter grade on such vulnerable, open, and painful sharing? I don’t remember the grade I put on the paper, but I can say Joe and I had a stronger student – teacher relationship from that time on. Because of this student’s paper, my life was changed in so many ways and my eyes were opened to the students I thought were doing Okay in life were maybe struggling more than I realized.
Sometime later at a school event, Joe’s grandmother came to the booth I was working that year. I took her order, and as I went to gather her items, I paused and said, “I’m Mrs. McCabe, and I’ve taught some of your grandchildren. They are good people, and I’ve enjoyed teaching them very much. Whatever you’re doing as a grandparent, please keep doing it, because you are making a real difference in their lives.” There at the festival booth, this grandmother looked at me, and she started weeping. After a bit, she grabbed my hand and patted it with hers as she said, “I love those kids. They sure are special to me. Thank you.” With those words, she let go of my hand.
I’ve never forgotten Joe’s paper, and how he bravely shared such hard decisions or that moment at the festival booth with Joe’s Grandma. When this dear grandmother let go of my hand, I remember thinking to myself: When I have grandchildren…if I ever have grandchildren…I want to be a grandmother just like her. I want to be a grandparent whose grandchildren know how precious and valuable they are; I want to be that loving voice in their heads, just like Joe’s Grandmother.