Love, Loss, and What I Learned

M. with Pa Pa

Pa Pa and me.

As parents, we’re constantly self-critiquing: How could I be doing better? Why can’t I be more patient? Why did I say that stupid thing I said, and will it land my kid in therapy?

I’ve been giving that a lot of thought over the last few days. My grandfather — at age 98! — passed away last weekend and we had to make a quick trip home to Texas for the funeral.

Members of my family sat down with the pastor at my grandparents’ church in the days prior to share memories of him — the personality traits and characteristics that stood out over a lifetime — and those were part of the service.

Death and funerals put life in sharp relief. And at a time when I’m mulling many things over — trying to look at things in my life with a fresh eye — it was grounding to hear the details that stood out about my grandfather. I knew those personality traits, too, of course, but I hadn’t thought about them in a long time, and I’d never examined them through the lens of parenthood.

My grandfather wasn’t perfect — who is? — but he got a lot right. A lot about love and life’s work. He was lavish with praise and affection, and — a child of the Great Depression and a WWII veteran in the U.S. Navy — he possessed a serious, studied work ethic.

And here’s the thing: People will remember what you say and do. Your actions have a long and lasting impact. Here are some things my grandfather taught me — things that I’m going to try to remember with my kids in daily life.

You can’t tell your children too often that you love them and are proud of them. Really. It seems like a no-brainer — DUH, as Magnolia would say dismissively. But just as one negative comment can linger in our minds for years, repeated positive reinforcement lays a solid foundation for self-confidence. — “I’m so proud of you and your accomplishments. You have been such a blessing to our lives.” (Yes, “blessing” his word, and even though I don’t attend church as an adult, I can tell you, it’s pretty uplifting to know that someone who loved me felt and thought *daily* — and was never shy about telling me — that I was a blessing to him. Appreciative tears brimming as I write this.)

Things don’t get done by thinking about doing them, or pondering what to do next. My grandfather was a machinist by trade, and he worked well into his late 70s — a precise, solitary work, very mathematical. He loved it, and by all accounts, continuing to work well past the age of retirement likely helped extend his life. Again — 98! And he was very well and with it until just the last couple of years. He applied his work ethic to all areas of life, though — I want to show my kids the same thing. Be productive, take responsibility, get the job done and be kind to others while you’re doing it.

Many lessons learned from my sweet grandmother, too — but at 93, I’m lucky to say she’s still here, and I’m sure I have more to learn from her.

98 and 93 — I hope I have their genes! And I hope I’ll leave a legacy for my children and grandchildren that somehow manages to be just as inspiring.

grandma and pa pa

Thanks for everything, Pa Pa!

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2 Responses to “Love, Loss, and What I Learned”


  1. 1 Rebecca September 23, 2011 at 1:25 am

    My heartful condolences to you and your family Melisa. I love the photo of your Pa Pa holding a wee little you – he seems to embrace the full wonder of this young person in his arms. Funny, my Grandpap was also a machinist and absolutely loved and self-identified with his work. Unfortunately he did retire at 65, and that very act enormously contributed to the end of his life, so I truly appreciate what you say about your Pa Pa’s tenure extending his life. Freud got it right when he said, “Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness”.

  2. 2 Bruce Coburn September 23, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Thanks Missy, we love you, Chrissy and the kids. I do have to say that if a bar was not already obvious, it was set high Monday. We were “blessed” to have him for so long. Just a side note Mama took the car out twice this week. Beauty shop and shopping for grandkids. Amazing!!

    Love you, Bruce


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