Three years ago my last remaining grandparent–my paternal grandfather–passed away. My heart doesn’t sting when I think about him anymore, he was old and frail and his health was failing quickly. He missed his sweetheart and when I think of both of them now I imagine them in this perpetual state of youth having a picnic on the grass surrounded by golden light and a double handful of happy grandkids enjoying a fresh batch of homemade strawberry ice-cream. The vast majority of the time when I think about my grandparents or aunts and uncles who have died I get a warm feeling of happy memories with perhaps a little pang of “wish you were here.”
A few weeks ago I heard about the passing of my x-husband’s grandfather, a man I admired and respected and who was always kind to me. He escaped his native German-speaking Poland as a very young child as Hitler came to power in Europe, had a distinctive career in the U.S. Navy followed by a successful dental practice and lots of church service and family leadership. He was 93 when he died. My wedding ring for my first marriage was made from diamonds Grandpa J.’s mother, Oma, sewed into her petticoat and smuggled out of Europe. After meeting X’s grandparents for the first time they told him they wanted me to have those stones*, an honor I still can hardly fathom; X was not the first grandchild to get married, nor was he the oldest. I have very few happy or positive memories of the time surrounding my first marriage, Grandma and Grandpa are present in almost all of the good ones though.
I have so many things I feel like I need to say here (I lived less than a half mile from them for 12 years and they did not know it; I often saw them at the grocery store and never said hello, they didn’t recognize me and I chose to keep anonymous; they entire family thinks I moved to California ages ago and married there, and I am content to let them live with that lie; I did not attend the funeral although part of me desperately wished to pay my respects, in the end the very high probability that I would run into my X kept me away, although I haven’t stopped thinking of these grandparents since; I feel guilt for skipping the funeral, and some remorse; I also feel like letting this particular part of my history and past lay undisturbed was probably for the best), but I would rather focus on the positive memories and the genuine kindness they showed me as a young woman newly engaged/married. Grandpa J. taught me how to properly hold a golf club and Grandma J. taught me the importance of keeping a fridge stocked with your favorite soda, just in case. They both saw in me someone who they felt would cherish and honor their family history and while my story did not continue to align with their family I will always remember them with fondness.
*For the record, I gave the wedding ring back when I left, not to X but directly to his grandparents; I did not trust X not to sell Oma’s diamonds for beer and stripper money.