Leaving fingerprints on our hearts

I still have the text messages I sent on the days my children were born. The first message from the delivery room to the last one from the waiting room was to our parents. They had just become grandparents.

In those moments, even though our kids were too young to understand the value of grandparents, they were already loved unconditionally.

And it’s there in the waiting room, jointly reading the text messages, where the similarities end between my children’s grandparents.

Both sets of grandparents grew up in different places, went to different schools and have different interests and hobbies. One grandfather was born in Spain, a military brat who also served for 20 years around the globe. A grandmother who learned the tough calls of life at a young age and restarted her career after traveling the world and having three children. The other grandfather and grandmother were born, raised and still live where generations of their families have toiled, sweated and prayed.

Those descriptions, however accurate, don’t accurately reflect who they are as people, as parents, as friends and, most important for our children, as grandparents.

Opa, Oma, Pa and Giddie held our colicky kids through outbursts of tears, play with our kids cross-legged on the floor for endless hours without complaint, protect them from falling down steps, distract one child while another gets a lesson in sibling rivalry, endure countless hours of mindless cartoons where the anthropomorphic animal always saves the day, and they bond over sports teams winning (and losing) important games.

It goes without saying that we, as parents, don’t always agree with the grandparents. We often have different boundaries and ways of handling things. We teach differently, show affection differently. We get through those differences as delicately as possible. But one thing is certain — it’s rooted in unconditional love. So it makes it OK.

I came across research that found that being a grandparent and having a grandparent has health benefits for both the older generation and younger generation. Children who have ongoing contact with a grandparent experience fewer emotional and behavioral issues. Grandparents who are actively involved in their grandchildren’s lives experience less depression and report greater overall happiness in their later years. I believe this is because of love. We need to love and be loved in order to be happy.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said it best: “Love is the master key that opens the gates of happiness.”

One day, if we are fortunate to become grandparents ourselves and if our children do the same, we’ll talk about Opa, Oma, Pa and Giddie, who left their fingerprints on our hearts.

– Ryne Dunkelberger


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