The Benefit of Remembering Time Together

Jack, our grandson, is just over four months old. To say that my wife and I are excited about his arrival would be an obvious understatement. However, I am going through a long process in an attempt to figure out my relationship with my grandchild. Let me explain.

My wife, Ann, and I have been married before. She was married and adopted a child named Lindsay as a newborn. However, Lindsay was in her mid-teens when Ann and her husband divorced. Therefore, I have no biological ties to Jack other than being the stepfather to Lindsay and a step grandfather to Jack. As his grandfather, I am twice removed. Having said that, we went to the hospital a couple hours before Lindsay had Jack who was born on July 7, 2010. I held him soon after that. Without any biological ties, Jack arrives in my arms and in a nanosecond, I relate to him as my grandchild without any of the step grandfather nonsense. That transformation within me perplexes me.

Between cuddling and playing with him, I have attempted to figure out what was happening with my bonding with him. It was instant. How can a biological outsider get into a closely-knit relationship with a newborn? I love my other grandchild, Ayanna, who is 15-years old. Nevertheless, what was different this time?

Then it dawned on me—the difference that changed my relationship and me with Jack forever. What was that difference? The difference was my near death experience. A couple of years ago, I fell off a ladder and hit my head on the stone patio and had a subdural hematoma. The neurosurgeon told my wife that I had a 50-50 chance of making through the surgery. Nothing was mentioned about what I would be like after the operation if I lived. Because of this teleological experience of brushing very close to death, my own personal near miss with death has given me a new Weltanschauung or worldview about my life.

Jack is a new generation—a new beginning. We celebrate his entrée into our world and the larger global family. Nevertheless, Jack’s generation ushers in the finals days or years of my generation. I remember, when I buried my father, I said at his funeral that I didn’t like the responsibility of supposedly having all the family answers and history. With my father’s passing, I was the oldest child, and I should know the family history. Before my mom or dad’s death, I could say something to either of them about some relative or some distant family happening and get from them all the details. They could rapidly recall facts that were beyond my grasp or understanding.

Now, that I am the oldest within the Campbell Clan, I have danced with death several times, and someday I too won’t be here. As I thought about the future, I remembered the past. I thought about my grandparents. I remember quite well both my grandmothers. However, both grandfathers were alive several years after I was born. While I vaguely remember my Grandfather Oakford doing something in the backyard of their home in Merchantville, NJ, it is so vague and at best nebulous. Both grandfathers had been ill and died before I was five years old. So with that one exception (a vague memory), I never knew my grandfathers.

The celebrating of Jack’s birth and those previous moments of infancy has made me aware of my grandfathers’ passing. As I celebrate Jack’s birth, I am aware of the grieving process that I am going through with my grandfathers’ death. While I was alive and was played with by them, I don’t have any real memory of them. I was too young at their deaths and the loss that I experienced as a toddler.

In my previous article about Jack, I talked about riding 15-miles a day to remain healthy and to be around at least to Jack is older and can remember the fun that we shared. My goal is to see Jack at least reach 21. Therefore, I think that some of my relationship with Jack is one of reliving what I have lost in my memory of my childhood fun with my grandfathers. A part of the playing and cuddling is an attempt to revisit those early years of mine nearly 7-decades ago. Those memories are stored in my brain just like Jack’s memories are stored in his of me. But alas, those memories cannot be retrieved for me now and for Jack years from now.

Jack will be 5-years old before he will be able to retrieve a conscious memory of his world in which he lives and those moments shared with me. So, I play with him, laugh with him, feed him, change his diapers, and cuddle with him as an attempt to flashback to my lost memories of my grandfathers. I attempt in some primordial way to re-enact with my grandfathers while playing with Jack. It is the only means that I have available to remember my grandfathers.

Along with my feeble attempt to retrace my history, you my reader can learn from this wondrous and painful experience that I am going through at the present. Here are some suggestions from me to you:

1. Realize that your days are numbered. This is an important revelation that you think you already know, but you don’t. It takes both age and a near-death experience to give you that real insight. It won’t come to you naturally at 21, 30, or 50. Yes, you know that you will die someday, but the emphasis is on someday not that you will die.

2. In spite of really not knowing, you need to act as if you fully understand that reality. You need to actualize all your potential in the days of your lives with friends and family. Experience the joys and sorrows, the good times and bad as if there will be a time that you won’t be around to recall those moments. This suggestion is to live now and the emphasis is on both live and now.

3. Make every moment count. We spend much of our time acquiring things and don’t pay enough attention with the people that are far more important than houses, cars, clothes, and the toys of our lives. Spend more time sharing with each other and deepen those relationships rather than investing in getting more things.

4. Don’t waste your time. Manage your time as if it is important to you and to your loved ones. We not only get preoccupied in spending time to acquire things, but we also waste time doing unimportant things that will be quickly forgotten.

5. Organize your life and not allow life to organize you. It seems to me important in some manner to journal and record thoughts, history, events about your grandchild or family members so they will have it in a written form. It will be important for them to have it even though in some distant years, they will have it when then they don’t have you.

Finally, there is always the question about what we can or should teach our grandchildren. There is much about which they can learn about life from our lives. There are many learning that I can give Jack to help him be stronger and better on the road of life that he hasn’t even attempted yet to walk. However, I think that the best lesson will occur while he is watching me and not lessoning to my helpful instructions or information. We can learn as much from observation of another as we can learn from sitting in the classroom in his home or in the home of his grandmother and mine.

Perhaps what is why I love teaching at the college level. For many of my students, I am the age of their grandfathers. Sure, I want them to know the facts, history, issue of the class, but what I really want them to know is to how to succeed in their journey through live. In many ways, the reality will come in observing me, my behavior, and what I see as critical.