Losing Grandparents Doesn’t Become Simpler with Age

On December 2, 1984, my Gigi Karatchuk died at the age of 67. Our Baba died two years before him, and my sister and I understood death. Trying to process grief and primary school math is complex. Decades later, we lost our maternal grandparents, and those emotions resurfaced.

Losing grandparents is difficult, and it’s unique for each person. There isn’t a time limit because grief shouldn’t end. You will forever feel the loss when there’s an empty chair. You will have your moments, and you have your memories. Embrace your loss. And don’t be afraid to cry.

I’m not. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My older sister (brown overalls) and me (sucking thumb) with my paternal grandparents, Baba and Gigi Karatchuk, circa 1980

“Grandparents are only with us part-time.”

That was the gist of a late-80s MTS commercial.

If grandchildren are fortunate, we’ll have memories of our grandparents – even if we lost them at a young age. However, if our grandparents are still with us in our teen years, or our 20s, 30s, or 40s – we start to believe they are invincible.

While we need our parents, there’s a special bond between grandparents and grandchildren. And when a grandchild loses that connection, it has a profound impact.

As children, our grandparents were the ones who fed us forbidden treats. We’d spend time with them, without a care in the world, except when the Smurfs turned purple. Grandparents could calm us down with sweet tea and Mr. Christie Coffee Break Cinnamon Raisin Cookies. They’d assure us there wasn’t a boogieman or a bear outside our bedroom window.

As an adult grandchild, when we walk into our grandparents’ house, we back revert to our childhood. Our worries are left at the door. We don’t have to think about the realities of life. In Grandma and Grandpa’s, Amma and Afi’s, Baba and Gigi’s house – we’re safe and sound, and eternally five years old. With endless puffed wheat cake and hot chocolate with coloured marshmallows.

Front to back: little sis, me, big sis, maternal Baba and Gigi Taraschuk, 1999

But when we lose our grandparents, we lose our sanctuary and sense of security. As grandchildren, we feel a range of emotions. Anger, emptiness, abandonment. And, we, the grandchildren have to face the harsh reality that grandparents were human like everyone else.

But our grandparents weren’t just anyone.

Because they were our grandparents, and they weren’t supposed to leave. The love from a grandparent is unconditional and irreplaceable. They will defend and protect you whether you were right or wrong – especially when they know you’re wrong – because you’re their grandchild.

Often, grandchildren’s pain and grief is forgotten when a grandparent dies. We’re overlooked during the chaos. The ones usually left out of the obituary because we weren’t their children.

We were though. Our name says so. We were their grandchildren. Yes, our grandparents are in our lives part-time.

But that doesn’t mean they didn’t play a major role.
Originally published on April 28, 2015 in the Interlake Spectator and Selkirk Journal (Interlake Publishing/Postmedia) as a column called Tammy’s Take.

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