Life Lessons From My Grandchildren

When my son was a toddler, I wanted time to stand still. I loved being a mother. I loved the daily cuteness and cuddling and knew I’d never enjoy anything in life as much as I did being his mom. But he continued to grow, and each year, I enjoyed life more. His million questions, his sloppy kisses, holding him close after he fell asleep, not wanting to put him to bed, because I knew these cuddly times wouldn’t last forever. I wanted time to stand still, because I knew I’d never experience anything as wonderful in my life again.

My son is 38 now. He barely lets me hug him goodbye when he’s going on a long road trip. But he and his wife also gifted me with grandchildren – two little boys who look so remarkably like their dad, that people often say that he must have cloned himself.

The other day, I was babysitting those boys – ages 2 and 4. We were watching a movie and somehow during the film, I hadn’t noticed that they had both moved down the couch to snuggle in close to me. I looked down to take in the scene. I had one boy on each side of me, and they were both almost, but not quite, sitting practically on my lap. Their heads were cushioned on my chest. Each of my arms held one of them as they snuggled as close as could be with their “Boba.” 

And that’s when it hit me – I’ve got it again. I’ve got that little slice of heaven I was so fearful of losing all those years ago. And more than that, I’ve got it double! Yes, life moved on, and I lost the cuddles of my little boy, but now life has brought me not only these two, but my three older grandchildren to love, as well.

I had to mull this over. Yes, here I am hugging two adorable cuddly little boys. I’m a grandma, not a mom, and it’s a different relationship – but it’s just as special. It’s a wonderful surprise to continue to have these blessings. It’s fantastic to get all these hugs and kisses and cuddles, and I love it.

And that’s when I began to understand. I get how a widow can have her chapter two. In the first year after Rick died, when I learned of a fellow widow who remarried, I could not fathom how it was possible. How could she ever love again? I know logically people grieve and move forward and find new relationships, but emotionally, it was inconceivable that I would ever feel ready to love another man.

But now I get it – or at least I’m beginning to adjust to the idea – because I’m experiencing this second chance with these two little boys. Although I will never have that special bond I shared with my own young son so many years ago, I have a new and wonderful relationship with each of those little boys. But the love I have for my grandchildren will never replace my first love. It’s a new and special love, and as each child was born, the love for the previous child was not diminished. As I sat on the couch, cuddling my grandsons, my heart was full. And I understood how life goes on, and the love just keeps multiplying and enriching and fulfilling my life.

I see now that it’s possible to savor my love for Rick while still loving another man. I will never be able to replace those years and years I shared a bond of love with Rick. I will never love another man the way I loved him. But it will be a different love and just as special.

Another significant thing occurred to me, sitting there on that couch. I was living in the moment. I wasn’t sad that Brandon was grown. I wasn’t sad that Rick was dead. I was just content and savoring that moment. And that’s something that has eluded me my entire life. 

Rick’s death was partly the catalyst. I regret all the times I didn’t just savor our moments together, but instead worried and fretted about how horrible it would be when he was gone. Deep down, I knew he was failing daily and the statistics weren’t good, so I tried my damnedest to put it aside, to look at him and tell myself – grieve tomorrow; enjoy this moment now. But it was a nearly impossible task, and I failed often. I ended up having plenty of time to grieve after he was gone. I wish I had spent more time living in the moment when I could.

So, finally, I am tired of living in the past. I’ve given up the idea. I’m enjoying the journey now, a journey I didn’t want, on a trip I never hoped to take. But here I am. I’m also trying hard not to keep worrying about what will happen tomorrow or how it will all end. I’m focusing on the day-to-day trip, enjoying the scenery.

It’s taken me a long time to get this far. My grief counselor has been trying to convince me that the life I have ahead of me could be as good as the life I’ve left behind. And I’d think, how can that possibly be? My great love is gone. The man who owned every bit of my heart is not here to share my life with me. How could I possibly enjoy the future?

But my own toddler is no longer a toddler. My 38-year-old son will never again say, “I love you mommy,” and stare at me with his radiant smile then plop a big open-mouth kiss on my lips. He’ll never throw his arms around me and sit on my lap, again. But when his two little boys run to greet me with their arms open and smother me with hugs and kisses, it doesn’t matter anymore. My life is still good and filled with more pleasurable things I could ever have imagined. And it’s a different love, this love I have for my grandchildren, but it’s an all-consuming love that will never detract from the love I feel for my grownup son.

And I realize now, that there’s the possibility of having a new relationship with a man, a love that will never detract from the love I had with Rick. It will never steal any of the love I still carry for him in my heart. I will feel that love until the day I die. But I have enough love inside me to love another man, too. 

There was that huge, huge chapter of my story that was filled with Rick and our life together and our love. It’s still a part of my book. It’s still a part of me. It has shaped who I am today. 

But now I’m in a different chapter, and my life can’t stand still anymore. If life had stopped when my son was a little boy, I’d never have been sitting on that couch absorbing the love of two sweet little boys. And if my life had stopped when Rick died – as it almost seemed to do – I’d never have the chance to see if there’s more love in store for me with another man in chapter two. 

About the author

Katherine Billings Palmer is a technical writer, poet, and essayist from Garden City, Michigan. She’s won several academic writing awards, including first place in the University of Michigan Dearborn Critical Essay Contest for her work about poet John Donne: “‘The Sun Rising’: A Lover’s Boast.”

In 2017, Katherine’s husband, Rick, died of complications from small cell lung cancer. She wrote a series of poems and essays about her struggles to cope with her grief. I Wanted to Grow Old With You is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

Her latest book, A Widow’s Words: Grief, Reflection, Prose, and Poetry – The First Year was published in January 2019 and is also available on

Katherine is a guest blogger for the Hope for Widows Foundation and writes about her grief journey at

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