These are my mother’s parents…Papi and Mamie. They’ve been gone now for over 20 years and I miss them with an intensity that makes my chest ache. Their loss still sits closely and I accept that it always will. I cry unexpectedly when I think of them, but that’s followed closely by goofy grins at the happy memories. They were sharp and active until the end of their lives when cancer stole Mamie and Papi followed shortly. His life was well lived and as he told me, hard to bear once the love of his life was gone.
I am blessed to have had them in my life throughout childhood and into my early adult life even if we didn’t get to see each other all that often. My family immigrated to Canada when I was a girl and visits back to France happened only every couple of years. When we visited, my brothers and I stayed with Papi and Mamie because we wanted to.
They were the best grandparents any child could have. Their presence filled spaces inside me that nobody else could and I hope that we, their grandchildren, were able to return the gift. These two people meant so much to many people. What they gave to others I hope to write about another day, but what they meant to me was simply this:
- Papi and Mamie loved their family fiercely and never placed any conditions on that love.
- We did silly things together. Like the summer I informed Mamie that we should be drinking 2 litres of water a day for our good health. The two of us took up drinking right out of plastic bottles while eating our meals. It was easier to track our consumption. Papi smiled and never criticized although his generation would never do such a thing.
- We had great conversations. My grandfather was born in 1902. He saw things I can only imagine and read about and he was always ready for a good chat. Papi respected and appreciated the opinion of anyone he spoke with…foolish, opinionated, 16-year-old girls included.
- Mamie and I watched funny, romantic, silly movies together and Papi sat with us. Never complaining.
- They let a teenage girl play music videos – loudly – in their small Paris apartment. And then asked about the singers.
- They were a refuge when teen angst was at its peak.
- And then the stories…coming from pre-WWI France and Laos they had many. They involve bears, flaming pumpkins, and riding elephants with the heir to the Lao throne while drunk . I will write them down soon.
- We went on fabulous picnics.
- The came from different worlds. Papi was a pastor’s son from a rural French village. Mamie the daughter of a prominent family in Laos. They were of different faiths, honoured each other’s, and walked the talk. The lesson I learned from their example is that all people are worthy of respect and understanding and while we may tread different paths we all have value.
- The door was forever open in their home and anyone was welcome. I try to emulate that and I hope I can do them justice.
The list could go on indefinitely, but I think I’ve made my point. My love doesn’t grow weaker just because I no longer see them. My one fear is the inability to transfer their spirit to the kids. I must tell them my grandparent’s stories more. I’m lucky to have some thanks to time well spent in their company, and my mother, uncle, and aunts can fill in the spaces.
This is what grandparents represent. They offer our children a respite from the rules of life with mom and dad. Sleeping in is encouraged, snuggles are plenty, there are no schedules, favourite foods are served, in short…the perfect place for a child to build happy memories. Our children are privileged to learn from another generation and there is enormous value in that. Parents and peers can’t be the only influencers on their development. After all, we can only offer them our perspective.
Stéphan and Nyla are lucky to have their grandparents close by although we often allow too much time to pass between visits. We’re caught up in the whirlwind of hockey, skating, riding, or whatever other activities crop up. But lately I’ve thought often of this and realize that D and I need to make more time for the all-important no-parent time.
So be warned mom and mother-in-law…the children are coming.
Kat @ jackstrawlane
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