Relationships between grandparents and grandchildren can be very special. Often it can give grandparents a chance to make up for things they regret not having done or having done to or with their own children and it can make grandchildren feel special and loved. My grandma and I meant the world to each other, but it was only after her death I came to understand why. Here’s our story.
A second home
I grew up in Arnhem, a medium sized city in The Netherlands, where my grandma only lived a stone throw away from my primary school and, later, also the high school I went to. Whenever I had an hour off or when school was finished I went to her house for a visit. I hardly ever stayed around at school to hang out with class mates. Granny offered intelligent conversation, sophistication, laughs, endless patience and love, exciting stories from the old days, the war, the family, complicated embroidery and knitting lessons and, of course, candy in abundance. How could I not prefer to be with her?
We had our rituals, and they were important. Each Saturday morning, for example, around 10 o’clock, I would pick grandma up and we would take the bus into town. We would walk arm in arm and gambol all the way to the bus stop. Upon arrival in the city center, the first thing we would do was drop by this well-reputed coffee and pastry shop; grandma would order coffee, I would take tea and we would both choose some great looking and even better tasting cake. After a while, we would go window shopping or work through our shopping list. And whenever I wanted something, grandma would either give it to me or buy it for me, sometimes causing a row at home with my sister who didn’t get half as much from granny as I did, and although my mother complained to my grandma nothing ever really changed. I always remained her favorite.
Then one day, when granny and I were sitting in her living room both knitting and enjoying each other’s company, grandma came with some very unexpected and startling news. She told me she’d had a stillbirth, a baby girl called Olga, in 1943 - during World War II. It must have been hard for her to tell me this and being a teenager I didn’t really know how to react. I just sat there and listened, but I remember the awkwardness of the situation. When I got home I asked my dad, who up to that point I had believed to be an only child, why he’d never told me about his baby sister. He answered that he had never heard anything about having had a baby sister, and that was the end of it.
I never raised the subject again with my grandma. I had started some research of my own and had read several places that losing a child in those days was taboo and not something you would talk about. Mourning was a very private matter, stillbirth was not uncommon and it was after all wartime; many people died every day, no need to ‘unnecessarily’ add to the despair and pain present all around.
I gave up to find out more but somehow the story kept popping up in my mind once in a while, and I couldn’t help but think that in some funny way I was involved in it too. In the meantime, I had become a student and moved to a different part of the country and my grandma and I didn’t see each other that often anymore. I tried to visit her as much as I could but I was early twenties, my world was growing bigger, opportunities were everywhere and time was limited.
A second chance for love
As a student I had started my own life, independent of my family, and the distance made me see things from my youth in a different light. I thought of my grandma a lot too, her life and our relationship. I really missed having her around, and would sometimes nostalgically look at some of the old photographs from the family album, when the story of Olga popped up again and it suddenly hit me.
I had always been the spitting image of my father, my grandmother’s beloved son, and had I been born earlier I could have easily passed as his sister, my grandma’s daughter! The daughter she had never had a chance to show her love to, talk to, hold in her arms or cuddle, teach how to knit or eat cakes with in her favorite pastry shop down town. My grandma had been doing all that to me and with me, her granddaughter instead, and I had loved every minute. My grandma’s love and attention has enriched my life in so many ways, and until today I feel great love for her and gratitude. I don’t know if my grandma has ever been aware of the link between her daughter and me but I hope that by being there I have been able to take away some of her pain of losing a child.
A magical bond
My grandma died on a summer day in August, almost twenty years ago and the same month her daughter had died. While she was lying on her bed, I held her hand which was getting colder all the time and I could feel her slipping away but I didn’t want to let go. My mum was wise enough to send me home so that grandma could finally say goodbye. And when she died, shortly after, my father and I who were sitting out in the garden under a terrace roof felt raindrops on our arms and faces and we both knew she’d gone.
I still feel deeply connected to my grandma and frequently think of her with great love and warmth. Thoughts of her comfort me. I miss her.