Friday, September 16, 2011

Mourning the Loss of a Generation

So, my very last grandparent died earlier this week. It made me sad. I cried a little. Then life just continued on as usual.

That's really the way it has always been each time one of my grandparents died.

My Nana, who I was probably closest to out of the four of them, was the first to die. I remember walking to class at Biola after hearing the news, I was 19 at the time, and feeling really, really sad. I thought about her a lot those days, but did not mourn deeply. It wasn't until I took a counseling class on grief - 18 years later - that the reality of her passing really hit me and I was able to properly grieve my loss.

As a missionary kid I grew up primarily living very far away from Nana + Papa and Nan + Grandad. We prayed for them every day and were always excited when a letter arrived from them. When I was a kid we didn't make international phone calls, it was too expensive, so there were long spans of time where we didn't hear their voices. I'm blessed in that we did live in New Zealand for three different seasons of my life - seven years in all - and I was able to build a real relationship with each of them. But then, we would always leave. I missed a lot of whatever their lives were like.

After moving to the USA my memories of each of them was limited to a few short weeks on trips I made it back to visit. However, Nana died after we'd only been gone for 2 years, so my last memory of her is a snapshot of her crying at the airport as we left for good. I wonder if she felt the deep physical pain then that I feel now each time I say goodbye to my family?

Papa and Nana Yarrall
I was only 19 when Nana died. In the many years since I've thought of so many questions I wish I had asked her. She was a godly, wise woman and I've deeply regretted the loss of her presence in my life.

The last time I saw my Papa his mind was no longer what it used to be, so he wasn't the Papa I remembered. That was a huge loss, but strange because he was still there. It was never the same to visit him like it had been when I was a kid. I guess in a sense he died before his body did.

My Grandad died during the first year I was living here in Colombia. Not only was I far from NZ, I was also far from all other family members. I know I didn't mourn his death properly. It was hard not to see him the last few times I visited New Zealand. I missed him teasing me and giving me rough hugs. But I also don't think I ever really knew or understood him too well. His life as a farmer in rural NZ was so very, very different from my life living in crazy, big and somewhat sophisticated cities around the world.

Grandad and Nan Comins
And now my Nan is gone. She was always kind to me. Not a big talker, I don't think we ever had any heart-to-heart conversations. But she was good. Lots of simple, but kind actions towards me. I had a little coin collection, she had a big one, when we visited she would go to her stash and find treasures to share with me! I always felt like she cared about what I was up to and did what she could to be in the know.

I'm glad we celebrated her 90th birthday with her. I'm glad we had those few days with her back in 2008. I only wish I could have shared more daily life with her.

Living on the opposite side of the globe has just made relationships with our extended family more complicated. It has been a sacrifice on both sides of the Pacific, for us in leaving and them in letting us go. It is much harder to build memories together and make connections that go deeper than the shared genes. With some of my grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins it has happened effortlessly and the bonds are strong, but with others... well, it is just a lot harder.

I wouldn't trade my life, growing up in a different country than my parent's home country, for anything. It is part of who I am and I can't imagine anything different. But I am sad that I didn't get to share more of life, time and space with my grandparents. I don't like trying to grieve their loss far away in a place that is so foreign to all my memories of them.

Like the other three deaths, this one will probably not be properly mourned until I visit New Zealand again.


  1. Angela, I only knew your Papa and Nana Yarrall but they were amazing people. I will never forget the great kindness they showed to my Grandpa Brown when my Grandma Brown died in 1974. They took him into their home for so many meals, provided company in his loneliness and a listening ear for many many years after.

    Grieving is a hard process and it is good to be reminded that it can take time and that we will all do it in different ways depending on our circumstances. Our prayers are with you and your siblings as you are far from each other and your parents at this time.

  2. Dear Angela, I know you will be looking forward to seeing them all again in the Glory, but at this time it would seem a long way off.
    I too mourn for those who have gone on before me and it is hard without them. The LORD will be very close as you go through this sad time and will bring you out to the other side rejoicing.

  3. Dear Angela,
    I was 18 when my first grandma passed. I was a freshman in college, at a ski competition, when I got the call that she had finally succumbed to the cancer she'd been fighting. I remember going out into the snow at night and just weeping. I loved my Grammy Ruth so much, and yet she had not wanted us to come visit her in her illness. She didn't want us to see her and be scared. I honored her request, but I wish I had gone anyway. I have since lost my other 3 grandparents (my dad's dad died when he was 13)...I loved and appreciated each of them, but it's strange how I feel my connection to them growing as I grow older...I appreciate them and their lives more...I too wish I had had the presence of mind to ask them more questions and listen to their stories. My biggest sadness, is not knowing if any of them were saved. What a wonderful legacy of salvation and service to Christ your grandparents have left, Angela! They must certainly have great joy in Jesus' presence, and in seeing their grandchildren loving and serving the Lord! Blessings to you and your family,