My cousin Claire posted a photo that popped up on my Facebook newsfeed today. It was of my grandparents, hugging each other on a boat on a lake. Next to them, little, tan, blond and wearing arm floaties is my cousin James. We were at a lake house in Virginia in the summer, my parents and my sister, my aunt and uncle and three cousins, and my grandparents. I remember so litte of this vacation. The lake was cold, the sun was hot, nothing of significance. I don’t know why it doesn’t stand out in my shoddy memory like our trips to the Jersey Shore, or to Disney World. Maybe I haven’t seen many pictures, or I haven’t re-lived it through home videos. My only real memory is catching my grandmother sneaking a cigarette in the driveway, near the car. I know I wasn’t supposed to see that.
Somehow that frequently happened to me, seeing things I wasn’t supposed to see.
The picture must be 25 years old. That little blond boy is 28 now, and towers over us all. That lovely grandma, that “sneaky little grandma” as my sister called her, she’s gone now. Officially for almost 13 years, although we lost her, the real “her” that made up our grandmother, much earlier. And yet here she is, appearing on Facebook like she was just on that boat this year, this summer, smiling with my grandfather’s arms around her, her youngest grandson at her side.
The photo re-appeared tonight because my grandfather commented on it. My cousins and I had already shared our thoughts when it was posted, how much we loved them, how they loved each other. But he hadn’t weighed in, possibly because he hadn’t seen it before tonight, or perhaps because he’s almost 94 and commenting on Facebook pictures isn’t part of his daily routine. I read what he wrote today, and then re-read it, again and again, because his sentiments warranted that.
“Anyone who knew her loved her, but not as much as I. She is in my thoughts and prayers every day. I will love her until I die and be with her again. Wasn’t she beautiful?”
Most of the pictures I find of my grandparents throughout my life and before, they are hugging, their love obvious to anyone who sees these images. I remember too the rest of it, what we can’t see in the photos-the bickering, the picking, the annoyances. But what endures is a fierce love. When my grandmother died, after Alzheimer’s had ravaged her mind and body, something in my grandfather went with her. A light maybe, or a lightness. Maybe it dimmed in devastation of witnessing what she went through in her last days. Or maybe in the realization that he would never again love anyone as he loved her, the mother of his four girls, his wife of over 60 years.
It made me start to think, about love, about loss, and about what happens when the two meet.
How many chances do we get to love? What if we experience that love, that exquisite, nothing-can-ever-be-this-good-again love, and what if it is lost? Can we ever truly let it go, and move on? Can we ever love that way again?
Do we have an infinite amount of love to give?
I can anticipate what many people will say: of course. Of course the heart will continue to expand and contract, to love and love more. To find it’s match in another, to regenerate the broken pieces. Of course we have an infinite amount of love to give.
But I don’t know.
What if we never quite recover from these monumental losses? What if the patches holding together those little slivers of our heart aren’t strong enough, aren’t laid perfectly over the cracks? What if we never have that capacity to love again in equal measure?
My grandfather married again. He loved his second wife. And, bless her heart, she probably saved his life. She lifted him out of a very dark place, and brought some of that light back to his eyes again. But not all of it, it seemed to me. Not all of what he had before.
And if we haven’t lost–can we just keep adding love without taking away from it? I’ve heard friends express concerns when debating having a second child. What if they could never love their second child as much as their first? Some stop trying, too afraid that they will never again find the magic they have with their firstborn, never really knowing if that love could grow to include another. Those who do have that second child always say yes, of course, their love broadened, it multiplied without diluting, allowing that magic to encompass them all. Can we really just keep adding ingredients, adding people into our hearts, without somehow distorting the recipe?
I wish I knew.
I am lucky in a way, I guess. I haven’t experienced that earth-shattering, world-altering, I-can’t-live-without-you love yet. I don’t have to wonder about myself if there’s enough love left. It’s all still there. It’s all ready. I can only hope that I do find that person, and that he recognizes my full heart with his own.
And hope that one day, he will say of me,
“Anyone who knew her loved her, but not as much as I”.