Rites of Passage
I lost my last remaining grandparent, my paternal grandfather, on Thanksgiving. He was ninety-four years old and had led a long, healthy, and active life. I feel grateful to have had a close relationship with him, and to have had him in my life for so long.
In thanking a family friend for her condolences, my aunt wrote, “We are the older generation now.” It struck a chord with me. My grandfather was one of the last of his generation and group of friends in our town. It’s strange to think that those days are almost gone forever now.
I’ve written a little about my paternal grandparents here. They were some of the “trend setters,” as friends described them, of the North Shore. They were famous for entertaining (here are some wonderful snapshots of a fundraiser they hosted for the Boys & Girls Club at their home) and were always active and vibrant people. I feel lucky to have known them, and lucky they were my grandparents. I’m glad they are remembered with such fondness by so many. “A gent,” a family friend wrote. “He taught me how to make the perfect whiskey sour at one of their Christmas parties. I think of him every time I make one,” said another. “He was such a character (I mean that in the best possible way),” said a third.
But the comment I keep thinking of is my aunt’s–“we are the older generation now.” And it’s true. My parents’ generation have become the older generation, and my generation has moved up too, to being the middle. We’re no longer the younger generation, the children. We’re the ones who take care of others now.
I’ve felt somewhat like this for a long time in any case, since my mother passed away. Once you lose a mother, there isn’t anyone there to take care of you any longer. You lose something so concrete, so significant, in both the loss of the person and the loss of that particular role. But the passage of time, the shift from one part of life to another, wasn’t fully complete. I was in a liminal state between child and adult.
Liminality, and liminal states, are heavily researched and studied in anthropology–the moments of being midway through a rite of passage, no longer being the person you were, but not yet the person you were become. And now I feel as though, with my grandfather’s passing, this passage is complete, that I’m no longer the child, I’m no longer the person I was.
It’s strange to think of, to acknowledge and accept–more so than just the loss of someone who meant so much to me. It’s a less particular grief, in that it’s prompted less by the individual who is lost–and a great loss, a loss of ninety-four years of experience and personality and stories and love–than the state of being that is lost, irrevocably, completely, permanently. There is no defined rite of passage in our culture for this, unlike the rituals surrounding the passing of a loved one. Maybe it would be easier to navigate if there was.