When our son and daughter-in-law told us they didn’t plan to have any children, therefore leaving us without any grandchildren, my husband and I were devastated. It felt like another death in the family. It felt like the hole I had in my gut after our older son died in 1999.
But as I quickly learned after our son’s death, there are always gifts to be had from the losses and traumas in our lives.
• Gift One: After his death I received the gift of writing and it’s been a constant in my life for more than fifteen years.
• Gift Two: Because I began to workout more regularly afterward I became stronger and more fit.
• Gift Three: Also, my marriage survived. My husband and I celebrated forty-three years of marriage last May. It’s not uncommon for people to ask how we managed to stay together under so much stress. I like to say because we gave each other the space to grieve in our own way. And we still give each other that space every day. We even have separate offices in our home.
• Gift Four: And though there will be no grandchildren I’ve created a wonderful relationship with our surviving son and his wife. I love spending time with my daughter-in-law – bonding, as she becomes the daughter I never had.
• Gift Five: The most important gift I’ve received as a result of this tragic event is the discovery of my life’s mission: to work to erase the stigma of mental illness and prevent suicide through writing and volunteering.
So if I could find good after such a horrific loss, I decided I could find ways of easing the pain of having no grandchildren in my future. The first step was to bond with the children in our family. Though they all live out of town, we see them often. Just this past December my husband Bob and I joined my late brother’s family on a Caribbean cruise.
There were sixteen of us: our nieces and nephews and their spouses and our six greats – five girls and one boy with ages ranging from fifteen to six months. We felt such joy when the children came into our stateroom and plopped on our bed to talk, wanted to sit next to us at dinner, went with me to the gym, laughed with us at a hypnotist’s antics on stage, and just gave us a spontaneous hug every once in a while. The invitation was truly a wonderful holiday gift. Saying goodbye when the cruise was over was very hard.
Another special gift in December was being asked to godparent the grandson of friends we’ve had since before we were married. We’ve bonded with their son and daughter-in-law over the last several years. She helped me revise my memoir when I was getting it ready for publication and then did some PR work after the book came out. She also gave us the opportunity to spend time with their first son, Oscar, as he developed into a joyful and smart little three and a half year old. I’d go over to babysit; they’d come over for lunch and a walk to our neighborhood tot’s playground. My husband plays cars with Oscar and talks to him about animals and their habitats. And because we have been so attentive, when Oscar’s baby brother Hugo was born, their parents asked us to be Hugo’s godparents. We are thrilled and honored.
Just recently, Hugo’s grandmother hosted a baby naming ceremony for him. As his godparents we participated along with the rest of his family. I wrote a poem called Our Godparents’ Promise for the occasion. My husband read it. In the poem we promised to love him and hold him close, take part in his life as much as possible, and spoil him every chance we get. We look upon this child and his parents as family. That’s the best gift of all.