I was fortunate enough to grow up with 3 of 4 grandparents. My Grandpa Kiernan died when I was 6 weeks old, so my teary-eyed, ” I miss Grandpa Kiernan!” wails as a toddler quickly became code for, “I need a nap.” I didn’t lose my Grandma Kiernan until I was 18 and a freshman in college, my Taducce the week before college graduation, and my Grandma Maggie 18 months ago. I also grew up with all of my Grandma Maggie’s siblings and their spouses alive and living in close proximity to us, as well as a slew of their friends who were often referred to as aunts and uncles.
In the last month, we’ve lost one of those distant uncles, as well as my Aunt Susie, the one who taught us all to swim and always had a seat for you at the table and drink ready to go, regardless of the time of day. Both of these two are in the same generation as my grandparents, and the loss of them has had me in my head for weeks.
Flashback to 2012: I vividly remember a car ride with my middle brother the day after my Taducce died. He picked me up, and as he was driving, he got more and more emotional. “They’re all going to die,” he said. “All of them. Our grandparents. Their siblings. Then our parents and their siblings. Then all of us.” To this day, I still chuckle at my response to him: “Yeah, bud. God willing and the creek don’t rise, it’ll happen in that order, too. Dying is a part of living.”
I didn’t mean to impart what now seems like sage wisdom on my brother, but it’s so true. Learning to cope with loss as an adult is as much a part of living as filing taxes and establishing a 401k (and I’m far better at coping with loss at this point). I cannot possibly afford to go home for all the funerals that have and will happen, so I’m resigned to managing my grief from far away. That said, I have not found myself overtly sad. Certainly, my heartaches for my cousins, as I cannot fathom the loss of a parent at this point, but for me, I’m choosing to focus on the time we had.
How many people get to say they grew up with almost all their great aunts and uncles on one side of the family? Had pseudo aunts and uncles and grandparents in the form of all their friends who cared for us as their own? When I think about how sad it makes me to lose them, and how strange it’ll be the next time I’m home to not see them, I still think about this: Would I have rather grown up only hearing stories? Or should I cherish the (almost) 30 years of memories I’m fortunate enough to have?
I’d take my own memories any day. I will forever be able to hold onto the image of my Taducce and Grandma Maggie and all her siblings and spouses and friends sitting on their front porch in the summertime. Pouring drinks for all of them from the time I could reach the bar. Swimming lessons. Clarinet lessons. Driving lessons. Comfort when I got my first “F” and was told, “Well don’t you know, F is for FABULOUS?!” Then there are the lessons I didn’t know were lessons, and some that I haven’t even learned yet, but I will attribute to their guidance when I finally figure it out.
Death is hard. Loss is hard. Coping with both can feel impossible. But never knowing someone is far harder, in the grand scheme of things, than learning to be without them. So until I get to meet them again, hopefully a long time from now, on a porch somewhere with a drink and a smile ready for me, I’m happy to hold onto the memories they gave me as a child and well into my adult life.