The missing Grandpa

Y’all, I’ve been widowed 13 years. 

Wait: for the people that know me, they are thinking, “Y’all? Did she say y’all?” I am not from the south, I just really love that phrase. Let’s get back to my story, friends! 

I’m not a “recent” widow. I’m not actively grieving. I still have moments, occasions, days, milestones where I’m sad, heartbroken and lonely. But it’s not my norm anymore, by the grace of God and lots of support from friends and family. 

But this weekend, out of seemingly nowhere, I had the saddest thought I’ve had in a long time. I feel like it was triggered by something my daughter said, but I can’t even remember now what it was. I just remember feeling like a dark cloud loomed over me and my heart sank. 

I realized, being a widow, that my children’s children won’t have a grandpa. Think about that. They’ll just have me. Just a grandma. I grew up without a grandpa (both maternal and paternal grandfathers died before I was born), and I always felt that missing piece. I adored my grandmothers and think about them so often and just wonder what having a grandpa would feel like.  And for whatever reason, this weekend it just made me sad that my grandchildren will have a missing piece in their life, too. 

For those that are widowed, your obvious absence is your spouse. You realize you’ve lost a spouse and your kids have lost a father. Your in-laws have lost a child. Siblings have felt a loss and so have cousins, neighbors and friends. And so on. But in 13 years, I don’t think I’ve ever thought about my children’s children missing a grandpa. It’s so strange how we adjust to life without our person and yet, still 13 years later have these new realizations that hit hard. 

We want our kids to have what we had, what we loved, what we treasure from our past. Realizing something is missing and there’s nothing we can do to fix it is tough. 

When I shared my feelings with some close friends, one agreed that coincidentally she, too, had a tough realization this weekend. Her granddaughters proudly declared that they have three cousins. While listening to their excitement, my friend counted her 38 cousins that she grew up with and spent so much time with. My friend never intended to have only one child but there are things out of our control and we do our best to be grateful for what God allows us to have. My friend, too, realized the strangeness of “missing cousins.” Luckily in her granddaughters’ case, they have three cousins from their dad’s side of the family. 

And so it could be with my grandchildren, too. They may get a grandpa if my children marry someone who has a living father.  And now as I think through this, I shake my head slightly. What in the world am I doing thinking about such things that I really do not have control over? Especially when the timeframe of my “grandchildren” is at least (hopefully) ten plus years away? Why do we do this to ourselves? We think about sad things, about the way things should be but aren’t, what we wish could be.  What do we do about this? Why must we torture ourselves in this way? 

I don’t have the answers. But I do believe that God provides what we need in the best way that they need it. While I missed out on my own grandpas, I had many years of special moments with my grandmas. And my kids have wonderful grandpas (and grandmas) to cherish. Life isn’t fair, that’s for sure. We don’t all get to experience the joy of the same relationships. We simply have to accept what we’ve been given and treasure those relationships that we have.  And it’s ok to be sad for a time; but just don’t stay there too long. Lord willing, tomorrow brings a new day and many reasons to love the spot we’re in and make the best of the moments we have with the ones that God provides. (And try not to think about 10+ years from now!)

How travel has helped with grieving

I love to travel and always have. 

I love exploring new places – seeing what cool foods and places are found elsewhere, outside of my little bubble. 

Traveling with my husband Kevin was focused on national parks – Smoky Mountains, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore. I’m so grateful we took those trips, because eight years into our marriage he suddenly passed away from an enlarged heart. 

If you’ve gone through grief, you know it hits you unexpectedly and turns your world around. You now measure time in terms of before the loss and after the loss since your world is much different from one to the other. 

About a year and a half after my husband died I was with some friends who were talking about our friend Carrie, who had moved to Ireland with her husband and kids. It hit me like a lightning bolt. That’s what I need. I need a girls trip to visit Carrie in Ireland. We did and it was amazing.  The trip was therapeutic for so many reasons. The main one was finally getting to take care of and focus on myself. I was the only person I needed to get ready (and not calculate time to get a child ready). When asked what sounded good for dinner, I only had to ask myself and not make sure there was chicken nuggets or mac n cheese on the menu. 

Did I feel guilty? A little bit. Some questioned me leaving my 3 year old with family back home for 10 days. But it was necessary for my mental health. I realized during that trip that traveling with my friends was good medicine for me. I healed a lot on that trip. I ended up taking off my wedding ring after that trip – a personal choice for widows/ers that only they can determine the right timing.

For me, traveling with friends is therapy, a treat, an escape from hard day to day decisions as a single mom. I highly recommend finding those friends that you can be with for a few days that allow you to enjoy this break. I try to take a girls trip at least once or twice a year. It’s no longer a luxury but a necessity for my mental-well being. The trips aren’t extravagant but full of laughter and adventure. 

For some that are grieving, travel can be a welcomed escape. On the second anniversary of Kevin’s death, I wanted to get out of town. I rode the train to Chicago with my son and we met up with my friend and her two kids. I just wanted to be distracted in a different space. Don’t let anyone judge you for wanting to travel and get away and do something different. Do what’s best for you – you might not know if it will be better, but try it anyway. Tradition is good, but there’s no rule that says you have to keep doing the same thing forever. Your tradition could be doing something different each year. 🙂 

One widow friend loves to travel but realized this time upon her return there won’t be flowers on the counter welcoming her home. Another friend says it’s hard to travel since the only person she ever traveled with was her spouse, no longer here. To them I say I am sorry. Your travel, should you wish to keep doing it, will look different. But if you loved it before, you can love it again – just with different people and different experiences. Maybe you have a friend back home arrange to drop off flowers before you get home. Maybe you choose to travel to places that your spouse wouldn’t have wanted to travel to anyway. Or maybe places that he wanted to travel to but didn’t get the chance…and he will surely be glad you did and will be thankful you got there, even without him. 

If you haven’t heard of One Fit Widow, check her out. She is a Michigan native whose husband died suddenly when she had two small children. She created One Fit Adventures that travel to exciting places that check off bucket list dreams that her husband wasn’t able to do. She understands that he would want her to do them even without him.  It’s one of my bucket list items to go on a trip with her group. https://my1fitlifeadventures.com/

The latest travel experience that I’m now addicted to is called Pack Up & Go. It’s a surprise travel agency that plans the details of the trip for you. For single moms, and anyone that tires of having to figure out details and make decisions for everyone, it is a dream. Or, for those that just like to be surprised. You pick your budget, travel method (plane, train, road trip), travel dates (at least 30 days out), you choose where they should not send you, and you fill out a survey about things you like to do on a 3-day vacation. Then…a week before your trip you get an envelope that you don’t open until the day of your trip. The day of your trip you find out where your destination is. You just go. You just go where someone else has planned for you to go. It is lovely. You can follow their itinerary (full of hidden gems) or you can do your own thing once there.  (Check it out: https://prz.io/bpmEXDriv)

Whatever your situation, I highly recommend travel. Travel outside of your bubble once in awhile and try new things. A change of scenery is so good for the soul even if it’s for a 3-day mini vacation. I don’t consider myself to be “actively” grieving anymore, but I suppose as a single mom there is always a level of grief; for this life you have, while grateful, is different than you imagined. For me, travel with my friends helps immensely with that.

Travel therapy: Hike at Red Rocks, Colorado May 2022.