Enough time has passed for me to be able to write about this ache, that pressure right under my heart that sometimes threatens my breath. As a writer, you often need distance to put certain feelings into words. Distance to make sense.
Three of my grandchildren, three beloveds, have moved away. With their parents, of course, to a house with woods and a creek in the backyard. To a life they have embraced with gusto and verve. I should be happy for them — and I am in a way, even proud of their gumption and their adventurous spirit. But this new life is in another state.
Just a few months ago they lived eight blocks away. Close enough to walk to on cool evenings but far enough not to do it all the time. So I rarely went without seeing the grands for more than two or three days, and it was perfect. The Hubby and I attended dance recitals and basketball games. We hosted pool parties with the other grandchildren, my joy at its fullest when all of them were under one roof: mine.
Now I must settle for the hurried FaceTime call. For the occasional trip north. For not having a daily pulse on such things as teeth coming in and hair growing long.
When a friend asked how I was getting along with this void in my life, I couldn’t answer right off. For so long I had been pushing myself through the loss, even encouraging my son and his wife to consider how change would bring unexpected benefits. But now there was no longer a need to put up a good front. I could tend to myself, I could afford honesty.
“It’s like someone took a zester to my heart and just scraped it raw,” I told her.
Look, I know I had been spoiled by having all my grandchildren living nearby. More than a gift, I thought this a blessing. Actually, I might’ve even been a little smug about my good fortune. So many of my friends traveled great distances to snuggle, but here I was no more than a short car ride away from that privilege and delight.
Not that I didn’t expect circumstances to change. A year earlier, another son had sold his house — seven minutes away, in traffic — to move closer to work. The commute was killing him and eating into time with his two young daughters. No fool, I figured his older brother would eventually do the same. I joked that I’d get my helicopter license to swoop into the city if need be.
But out of Miami? Across the state line? I didn’t see that coming.
Slowly I’ve tried to snatch solace wherever I can. A life of hard losses has taught me how to mend. So first thing I did was paper the space above my desk with their drawings, their rhyming poems, their scribbled notes of crayoned hearts and misspelled words. I don’t know why, but this little shrine, which includes the other grandkids’ artwork too, seems to make the situation a bit more bearable. It’s allowed me to recognize that I’ve grown sentimental with age, maybe because I understand all too well the narrow window of time known as childhood.
I’ve also set several alerts for round-trip fares to their new city and struck an unspoken covenant with the other grandmother to keep each other informed. Two heads (and two broken hearts) are better than one. I’ve gone as far as telling myself that I’ll be ready to grandparent the still-to-be-born grandchildren of my two youngest, who don’t live nearby.
Now, when I cling to the little ones who remain here, I think about the inevitable. I know the day will come when they, too, will fly away. As they should. As they must. And then, and then — I suspect I won’t be ready for that either. Watching loved ones spread their wings can be a bittersweet thing indeed.
Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at email@example.com or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.