Loving them well

Some people never get to love their grandparents before they are gone.

My maternal grandma passed away before I even existed. A graceful, intelligent woman with words like honey and truth in her intentions, she died of cancer in 1996. I hear stories of her and see reflections of her in my mother.

We lost Grandpa Henry when I was six. A self-made Slovenian/Italian American (we think), he worked tirelessly, doing manual labor that kept my grandma happy and provided for his boys.

The next blow to my family was the death of my maternal grandpa. He was a leather tanner, avid reader, and dedicated Christ follower. He knew me as an awkward middle schooler and showed love by endlessly supporting my hobbies. I had no idea how valuable our relationship was. We lost him my freshman year of high school to an unknown disease caused by poor working conditions.

My grandma Elizabeth was the lifeblood and matriarch of the family, providing endless streams of Greek food on holidays and exceeding her small income on parties for the Greek Side, which often lasted days on end. She was sharp as a tack but had a failing body. We watched her die comfortably during my freshman year of college. She taught me the Greek language and the family’s recipes and spent time giggling and telling stories with me. Her passing marked the end of a generation.

Our family holidays look different now. My parents, sister and I eat traditional Greek food while watching home movies and recalling fond memories. We try hard to be merry, but the ache of our hearts on those days is too stubborn to ignore.

2018 was a horrible year for many, and I am no exception. My mom was diagnosed with dementia that year. I came back to school in January staring in the face of a harsh reality: my mom may not recognize me when I graduate. When I look in her steel blue eyes, I see all of my lost family and memories we should have made.

This seems like a sob story, but I am telling it to you as a call to action.

If you still have your parents, your grandparents, your aunts, and uncles, love them, please. Listen attentively and love them well.

Let them tell you their stories, even if they told you yesterday. Let them gossip about their neighbors. Watch their favorite black-and-white movies, no matter how simple they may be. Tell them about your life and listen to stories from theirs. Laugh about similarities and discuss the differences. Talk about God, true love and joy. Take videos of you together so that in 20 or 30 years, when your heart is aching for their presence, you have a memory to look back on.

If there’s anything that you can learn from my story, it’s that you will never regret showing love.