When my family dynamic was fractured by the sudden and unexpected death of my father when I was 26 the last thought on my mind was filling the space he had left with another person. Grief and loss took up that place in my heart for a while. My dad had seen my first steps and first ballet recital, had wiped tears when I went to the prom and graduated from high school. So even at an adult age, I felt cheated out of the things he was going to miss.
He wouldn’t see me graduate from college, his eyes wouldn’t tear again as I walked down an aisle in a white dress and he would never be able to hold his grandsons high above his head and smile at me as if I had given him the best gift on the planet. I knew that wherever he was that he could see and appreciate these times but it’s not really the same.
Yet there would be another chapter in our family’s story and it started when my mom fell in love again and married my step dad, bringing another man into my life. Not a place holder or a replacement but rather a new seat at the table with a new perspective on life for all of us.
Rather than try too hard, we all accepted that a coming together would take time and so we did the dance of acceptance, twirling and stepping on each other’s toes until we were sure of ourselves. We made new memories and traditions and built a new family that sat beside our old one. He never discouraged us from talking about our dad and because he knew him, he shared his own memories of the man who had loved us first.
My step dad is funny and wise, witty, dry and enormously funny when he wants to be. He is a great lover of music. He is generous, quiet and loyal. He knows how to keep secrets, he listens and he’s honest, and he gives a good hug when that’s really all that’s needed.
My favorite memory of him is the day we had finally all accepted that my pregnancy would end in real, live healthy baby boys. We had been discussing their names and had broached the subject of what the boys would end up calling my mom and my step dad. I looked across the table at the man who had become family to me and I said, “Whatever you want. If you want them to just call you George that’s ok with me. Your choice.”
Without hesitation he answered, “I’m their Grandpa, Kirst, and if you feel comfortable with it that’s what I’d like them to call me.”
Hormonal and touched I sobbed for a very long time as I took in the fact that this man had taken not only my mom into his heart, but her children as well.
At 26, I didn’t need him to become a second dad to me, but he loved us like his own.
In the end, he was the one who saw me graduate from college and walk down an aisle in a white dress, and he has held my sons above his head more times than I can count, smiling at me as he does.
They don’t call him Grandpa; instead, once they could form words, they dubbed him “Pop-Pop” and it fits – two grandpas, one here and one in heaven, each with enough love for all of us.