The best grandparents I’ve ever met: How my friends turned tragedy into triumph

So many people come and go through our lives – maybe some stay just long enough for us to learn

So many people come and go through our lives – maybe some stay just long enough for us to learn something, but the ones that stick around for years through thick and thin are our real treasures.

While I was recently in Melbourne I caught up with my longest and dearest friend and her husband. Over the years there have been long periods of time that we didn’t see each other but whenever we meet the years melt and we are young mothers again.

We met over 50 years ago. I was a very young mother and hated leaving my little daughter each day as our financial position necessitated me to continue my job as a primary school teacher. There was a handsome young male teacher at the school and one day we had a conversation which prompted him to say he would like me to meet his wife, so he took me home to meet her. Our friendship was almost instantaneous. I had often felt very alone as, for a number of reasons, I had become isolated from my former friends. I have always felt so grateful to have met this wondrous woman whom I have always loved.

As our families grew, we shared each other’s triumphs and tragedies. My lovely friend had four children but still managed to become a champion, veteran long distance runner. She and her husband have always been great contributors to their local community.

When I came close to losing my son in an accident, they were there for me, little knowing that some years later that they would lose a beloved son in his 30s. They were still reeling from this tragic event when the wife of their other son took her life, leaving a grieving husband and two little boys.

This is where the real point of my story begins. Instead of being destroyed by their grief, they banded together as a family and vowed to enhance the bond that they had with the living and of course that included the two little boys left without a mother. There is so much I could write about the efforts they have made but I will focus on the family activities of this last Christmas. For a time the two little boys found it difficult to share their father with his family. One could only begin to fathom what they were experiencing, but my dear friends persevered and travelled interstate to see them in the school holidays while their father worked. My friends have always had such a close connection with their other grandchildren and found it very sad that these children were so aloof and almost hostile.

Each Christmas the beautiful man, who is their dad, would bring them interstate to spend the festive period with family, and bit by bit the ice has thawed. As their grandparents related the activities of this Christmas, the tears ran down my cheeks and I couldn’t help thinking how wonderful it was that these children have such innovative and intuitive grandparents. My grandchildren are now in their 20s and I look back on some of my activities with them as being rather tame in comparison – although they often recount how they enjoyed me reading them Maurice Glietzman’s “Bumface” in serial form!

My friend’s husband, who is now in his 80s, cut some sticks of bamboo and set the boys a task of making a teepee with shade cloth. When that activity was completed, a play was written in which they became Indian chiefs. A head dress was made from sea gull feathers and other impromptu props were gathered to create the environment. The whole family was involved and I was thrilled when my friends sent me the script and some photos of the occasion. I have always admired how they have always encouraged their children and grandchildren to spend time hand making cards for special occasions. At Christmas and birthdays, their book cases are filled with lots of handmade cards decorated in all sorts of innovative ways. I always look forward to the hand painted card I receive every Christmas.

The time will come when it is our time to leave but I am so glad that tragedy hasn’t crushed this lovely family and the experiences they are giving these children now will be remembered for their lifetime.

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