Among the questions I have often asked myself since abandoning my faith, is how I feel about my mother’s parents. They were both strict Plymouth Brethren and yet also embodied the gentle godliness that one expects from people who profess to be Christians.
I do know that they were strict with my mother on certain things. They had ideas and attitudes even as a youngster I found terribly old fashioned. I remember my mother saying that the university she chose to go to was based on its distance from home as much as the quality of the course she took. Looking at some old photos I found of mum as a teen I can see the mischievousness in her that I saw in her as an adult, there is also a hint of rebelliousness. If my daughter develops the same levels of rebellion and mischievousness, then I am in for a terrible ride during her teens!
My mum fell pregnant some time after meeting my dad, I don’t know how many months passed between first date and pregnancy, but it was a major shock for my grandparents when it happened. My mum was in her 20s by this time, but my grandparents were of the generation where pregnancy means instant marriage and I was born a few months into the marriage. My newly married parents lived with my grandparents for a year and a bit before they upped and moved toZambiafor the next 20 years.
My youngest brother, at the grand old age of 18, managed to repeat the feat of unintentionally getting a girl pregnant. I was with him when grandma explicitly told him that he should not feel that he has to marry the girl. My mum nearly fell of her chair in shock! When I relayed the incident my dad, he was equally astonished. I think they showed grace and humility by showing that they learned from the experience of my parents all those years previously, even though it likely still went against their ideals.
In the time that I knew them, I don’t think I ever saw them raise a voice or get angry. They really were the epitome of mild mannered loving grandparents and it was always a pleasure visiting them. My grandfather was secretary of their Brethren chapel for as long as I can remember and he had one very strange quality that I now look back on as endearing. He prayed as though he was reading the King James Version of The Bible, at the time I thought it was just plain odd. When he prayed he used ‘thee’, ‘thou’, ‘thine’ and other old fashioned words that are not used every day, or any day for that matter, but are found liberally sprinkled throughout the KJV. I have no idea why he did this, I don’t believe he thought it made him more spiritual, quite the opposite, I think he did it because he was spiritual and it was his way of showing deference to the Almighty.
Despite being the fittest and healthiest of my all grandparents, my granddad was the first die. It was sudden. He was doing the dishes after lunch one day and had a heart attack. He was dead before the ambulance arrived. Grandma followed six months later; my wife is convinced that she died of a broken heart, unable to bear being apart from him.
The day of grandma’s funeral I got a phone call that no one should ever get on the day of a funeral. My step mother rang to say that my other grandfather had died that morning. My cry of shock got stuck in my throat and I was unable to speak or even make a noise for what felt like many minutes.
My Dad’s parents were very different from Mum’s. They didn’t live the same Godly life, and apart from family weddings I don’t think I ever saw them go to church. This difference was very noticeable in their respective funerals. The funeral of my Christian grandparents was very much a celebration of their lives with a full church and a very personal eulogy while my not so Christian grandparents made do with a handful of close friends and family and the eulogy given by a priest who barely knew them. It was quite sad in comparison.
Being a Christian at the time, the death of my paternal grandfather was a problem for me, I struggled to deal with the concept of a much loved grandparent not going to heaven. Eventually, with tears in my eyes, I asked my father if I’d see him in heaven. Dad could not be absolutely certain, but suspected so. Conversely, my confidence in seeing my maternal grandparents again was certain and I felt very different about their deaths. There was much more joy, not joy in their death, but joy in where they were going.
That horrid 18 months, in which I lost all four of my grandparents was more than 15 years ago, but I still feel the same emotions thinking back to each one as I did at the time. I miss them all terribly, but its my maternal ones who had the biggest effect on me and that loss is not at all reduced by my lack of faith and nor does it change the way I feel about their faith. I don’t have to share it in order to continue to respect and admire it.
- Help Kids Cope With a Grandparent’s Death (everydayhealth.com)
- A Tribute To My Grandparents (micanonymous.wordpress.com)
- Letter: Denying children their grandparents’ company hurts everybody (tcpalm.com)
- Things to Teach Your Grandchildren (grandmacents.com)