Given the events of this summer, in my personal life, it is perhaps not surprising, that I've been thinking a lot about my extended family. I've been thinking of that of Honey's, too, but more about mine, because, well ... they're the ones I'm more familiar with.
Earlier this week, I had trouble sleeping because all I could think about was my parents' mortality. It hit me in a couple of places. The thought of losing them saddened me as their child, but it saddened me even more as their gestating grandchild's parent. I really want our kids to know my parents. They're wonderful, mostly fun people, even if they do get on our nerves, sometimes. It would break my heart into many pieces if they died before our kid(s) were born or before the kid(s) had a chance to develop any meaningful memories of them.
Then there's the simple issue of "what happens to us after we die?" I go through phases when I believe in an afterlife spent in the company of the departed and in the bosom of the Creator (Heaven) and when I think there's nothing, just oblivion; just a dreamless sleep. (Perhaps surprisingly, because of how our society delineates things, the absence of an afterlife does not, to me, signify the absence of God.) I'm in a phase right now when I fear death: my own and that of those I love, because I'm not sure what comes after. And I actually believe in Heaven more for my family elders, maybe because their assurance appears so beautifully effortless - though, talking to them, I know it's not. And that they do, and are about as comfortable with the idea of going there as anyone can be, I think they will spend eternity in Heaven whether I do or not.
I hope there's a divine afterlife. For purely selfish reasons: not just reuniting with my loved ones, but getting to know those who've gone before me who I didn't get to know. Namely notable peacemakers and my dad's parents. There were times in my childhood when I so wish I could've known them. There were many times I felt devalued by my mom's parents, and I longed to have another set to run to, to balance that out, to get personal affirmation for just being me, and not for not being good enough. We only had one portrait of them in our house, growing up. A black and white photo. Which sucked, because I never got to see the supposedly fiery red hair that my grandfather had, that now weaves through my own muted locks. It looks dark in the photo, so I assumed it was brown for years and years. In fact, virtually every photo I've seen of them has been black and white. And often grainy. Kind of like the second-hand memories I've been given of them. Somewhere, among my parent's things, is a reel to reel recording that includes my grandmother's voice. I've not found it, yet. When we do, I'd like to have it transferred into a digital file, so I can hear her. So she can be more real to me. (Wow, I can't believe how much I just cried writing all that. I haven't cried over them in years. In over a decade, maybe.)
These are the things I don't want for our children: to have to hear second hand stories of their grandparents. To have to piece together who someone was based on rose-colored anecdotes. I could never do my parent's memory justice. Especially, Mom's. I really think she's going to be a wonderful grandmother; probably a better grandmother than she was a mother. If her interactions with my cousins' kids are any indication, she'll certainly relish it more and attack it with more enthusiasm than she did mothering.
But what is more difficult is distance. My parents live in Texas, roughly a 3 hour flight away; Honey's on the West Coast, about 6 hours away by air. I lived in the same city as my grandparents until I was 12, and then, in the same state, just an 8 hour drive down the road: two tanks of gas that are much cheaper than 2 plane tickets. We saw them several times a week, and even when we moved, we were up there a lot and they traveled the state visiting kids and grandkids several times a year. Honey, on the other hand, had 6 grandparents, thanks to divorce, all of whom lived in Texas. At any given time in his childhood, that was a 3 - 10 hour flight, and all its costs, away. So, they were slightly alien to him - "family," but not familiar - until he spent a few summers with one set, in his high school years. Going to college in Texas cemented those relationships. Honey's mom and my parents are already trying to figure out when they can come up here for the new baby. His dad has not yet expressed that interest, so I have no idea when he'll come out to meet his grandkid; as yet, we don't have any West Coast travel plans. I can't help but wonder if that'll be an indication of how the grandparent relationship will unfold: mine and his mom trying to get out here as often as they can (I already plan on capitalizing on Mom's summers off), and his dad just sticking to his habit of visiting the East Coast only occasionally. Naturally, I hope we can visit them as much as possible, as well.
I really want our kid(s) to have genuine personal relationships with all their grandparents. I assume it's natural for kids to favor one set or one grandparent over others. Luckily, I don't worry that mine or Honey's parents will be emotionally detrimental to our kid(s), like my mom's (unwittingly) were to me. But I do hope the old folks stick around long enough for the kid(s) to pull wisdom and love from them.