Often, when I write a post, I don’t think much about it afterwards. Having purged my thoughts, I move on to the next topic, to the next twisty, tangled thing my brain desires to unravel. But yesterday, I kept going back to the post I’d written about family. In particular, the last question stirred up thoughts I’d never had before. My memories of my great-grandparents – my father’s maternal grandparents – remain foggy to me, even though I knew them beyond the quick-step of my childhood years. I know them as vague figures in the family tableau, the oldest and most revered, the foundation of nearly every family get-together.

It’s hard to imagine myself as a child – a young child, as a toddler or an infant. I have no memories of myself at this time. I have only pictures to draw from, and even that’s not so helpful. I recognize myself, but that’s expected; I’ve been looking at pictures of myself for thirty years.  I look at these pictures and see myself and my family and a moment caught forever – and sometimes I can see the familial dynamics, the ties that run between the people in these pictures. I know how I feel about these people, my family, and I know how they feel about me.

Lately, though, I’ve begun to wonder if I’m wrong. If I have my own perception of how they feel about me, based solely on how I feel about them.

We tend to take family for granted – at least, I think I tend to. I think about my place in the family, but I don’t often think of how my place affects others. After all, I can’t imagine a time without me, simply because I have no memory of it. I can’t think of my family out of context. I’ve tried, but it’s only since I became an adult that I have become curious about what came before me. What do I know about my parents’s lives before me? Or my grandparents’s – my great-grandparents’s? The further back I go, the less I know. The more I want to know.

I found a picture yesterday:

My father’s mother’s mother and me, when I was about three and half years old. It was slipped in amongst the pictures I took of her funeral, in the spring of 2005. I’ve seen this picture a dozen times before, but not since I left for Japan. I’m looking at it now with new eyes, and now I’m thinking, who was she to me? what did she think of me? how did she feel about me? why don’t I know more about her? She was my great-grandmother, a woman who had known me most of my life, who had taken a large part in raising my father when he was very young – and I know so little about her. I know so little about any of my great-grandparents.

I see everything through the eyes of my grief now, and each time I saw family over the holidays, I wondered what they thought of Lauren, what she was to them. I know what her life and death mean to me, but what do they mean to everyone else? I can’t imagine what it feels like to be an aunt who has lost her niece or a great-grandmother who has lost her first great-grandchild, or even a mother who has lost her first grandchild? Idon’t know what they expected, what they hoped for, and thus what they have lost. And I’ve been too afraid to ask. And too self-absorbed. I’ve focused on the fact that I lost a daughter, but Lauren was so much more than that. She was the next generation of a family, the next round of hopes and dreams building from great-grandparents to grandparents to parents to . . . me.

I too was a first grandchild, a first great-grandchild, a first in many of the ways that Lauren was. What dreams were dreamt about me? What hopes? Were they different from the ones dreamed about Lauren? Or is there always the same reverence for the firstborn?

When I posted about my last blog on Facebook, I added the comment: “grieving is like wearing blinders: you forget that others are hurting too.” I forget that Lauren was not just everything to me – she was something to everyone in the family. In two families. She was the future, now unreachable, forever changed. Other children will come – my own, perhaps my brother’s, my cousins’s – but her echo will remain, a remnant of the dreams and the love she has left behind her.

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