Graveyards, Grandkids, & Gratitude: A Personal Story

I have a little something to share with you to show one way our family demonstrates our thankfulness during the month of November as we think ahead to Thanksgiving.  But before I get to that, just this past weekend I had an experience that moved me more than anything has in a long time.  It reminded me in a very personal way just how much gratitude I have for my family, in a way I never would have expected.

I am so glad to be a part of the 21 Days of Contagious Gratitude series running from November 1st through 21st and hosted by Inspired by Family Magazine.  Be sure to head over to find links to all of the other gratitude posts being shared on each of the 21 days!

Stay tuned for my family gratitude activity idea at the end of the post!

Graveyards, Grandkids, & Gratitude: A Personal Story

Late Saturday afternoon, the kids, my husband, and I were taking the 2-1/2 hour drive east to visit my parents for the night.  We were going to arrive before dark for once and my husband asked if I wanted to stop on the way, at the graveyard where both of my mom’s parents are buried.


I grew up living next door to my grandparents and I saw them pretty much every day of my life.  They were always there to listen to me.  My favorite memories of them are just when I would go over to their house and sit down to chat, often for hours at a time. 


Shortly after I graduated from college and moved even further from home, my granddaddy had a stroke.  My husband and I had only recently started dating when I got the call to let me know in 2002, and that keeper of a man actually drove me to the hospital several hours from where I now lived, and met my family for the first time there in the waiting room of the hospital.  Sadly, my husband never got to really know my granddaddy, because though he survived the stroke, he was never the same afterwards—mentally or physically.  He passed away rather suddenly in 2005.  Our whole family wore his favorite color – yellow – to his funeral and laid yellow roses on his casket.


In 2008, my grandma, who had lived more than 10 years after having a kidney transplant, passed away unexpectedly 10 days after my first child was born.  My son never got to meet her, though my mom showed my grandma photos of him just before she died.  My husband wore our less-than-two-week-old son in a baby carrier under a heavy jacket that cold February day at her graveside service.  It was a very bittersweet time, welcoming a new little person into my life and saying goodbye to someone so dear to my heart at the same time.  I suffered silently with what I know now must have been postpartum depression for quite a long time afterwards.

Fast forward more than 4-1/2 years…and there I was in the car with our 4 year old son, our 3 year old daughter and my husband asking if I wanted to stop in a graveyard where two people were buried whom the kids had never met.  I was so caught off guard that the tears were almost instant behind my sunglasses.  Questions flew through my mind.  Should we?  Would it cause the kids too many questions?  How would they handle it?  Would they understand any of it?  Would I even be able to explain it?  What was the right thing to do?

I took a deep breath and nodded to my husband, though I was altogether uncertain how it would go over.  Pulling myself together, I tried to start preparing the kids.  I explained to them where we were going and who my grandparents had been and that we were going to a place where we could remember them.  My 4 year old wanted to know why my voice sounded funny.

A few minutes later, we pulled into the graveyard and piled out of the car.  Luke admired all the “rocks” which we explained were tombstones and we talked to him about what was written on them.  I told the kids about what my grandparents had been like and how Luke had actually come here before as a teeny baby, but how Lilah hadn’t been born yet.  I explained how these were their own grandma’s parents and their great grandparents.  I traced the markings on the foot stones with my finger as I told the kids about them.

For just a teeny sliver of time, my grandparents seemed as alive in the memories I shared as they had been in life, and I felt them there with us.  Luke and Lilah listened intently and were genuinely inquisitive, yet at the same time were somehow sensitive with their questions as though they sensed the moment was tender.

Walking back to the car, Lilah stopped and looked up at me.  She said softly, “Mommy, it’s sad that you miss your grandparents so much.”  I picked her up and hugged her close to me.  She’s three and yet her intuitiveness and compassion are two of the traits I admire most about her.

Truly I have come to believe that it’s often through the hardest times that the most beautiful are allowed to shine.  Those few and fleeting moments when I was able to make my grandparents come alive for my children, even if just through my words, were more meaningful than anything in my recent memory.  I feel so blessed to have had such an amazing relationship with my grandparents for quite a big part of my life, and that my own children are growing those sorts of relationships with their grandparents.  I am constantly awed by the love and compassion I see expressed by my children, often in ways I wouldn’t think them even capable at their young age, and it touches me so deeply.  And I am so thankful for my husband, who asked if I wanted to stop in a little graveyard on the side of the road where I hadn’t been in a long time.  Because even though he barely got to know my grandparents, he knew what that visit would mean to me even more than I knew myself.  We stayed only a few minutes, but that memory will be tucked away in my heart for a long, long time, and I thank him so much for offering it to me.

I got back into the car that early Saturday evening with a calmness and a peace in my soul that most certainly only comes about when something miraculous has happened.  Of course there was more talk in the car and I’m sure there will be many, many more queries from the kids in the days and weeks to come.  But, was it the right thing to do?  In my heart I know without a doubt it was.

As Mari shared in the opening post of the 21 Days of Contagious Gratitude series, “We are constantly surrounded by small miracles.  Let’s open our eyes and embrace them.  May the Lord open the eyes of my heart so I can see them!”

Amen.  Let it be so.

The Tree of Thanks: A Family Activity Focused on Gratitude

Last year during the month of November, we started a Tree of Thanks.  It’s a family “project” that we created and then added to each evening at the dinner table.  It was really amazing to hear what each person was thankful for each night, especially the kids.  Having to come up with something new to add each night really helped us start to think about all the things for which we were really thankful.  A lot of times it was just the little things, or things we tend to overlook because we take them for granted.


You can read more about our Tree of Thanks here.  I do believe gratitude can be contagious, and when I actually slow down and take the time to reflect on my life, I can see so many blessings that I too often overlook.  I am thankful to have a month of the year that reminds me to take time to be thankful.

Best wishes for a blessed November to you and your family!!

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Genny Upton

A former teacher turned stay at home mom to two preschool aged children. Creator (and writer) at In Lieu of Preschool and Parent Teach Play. Currently publishing my first children's picture book!

  • I love this story and how you connected more with your kids! We always remember them and to share the memories is always nice. They teach us so much while we are trying to teach them.

  • Brought tears to my eyes. What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing!

  • Children are amazing. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.

  • Ticia says:

    What a wonderful story! So sweet

  • Bethany says:

    What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this. Sadly, BOTH of my husbands parents passed away before our kids could meet them. I love hearing how you connected your children to your grandparents as this is something important for us in terms of my husbands parents and our kids. (My apostrophe button is not working – please excuse the fact that it looks like I mean husbands plural and not possessive.)

  • I love how your daughter was so intuitive, how you connected your children to their g-parents and how it was all so meaningful to you and I am sure your kids. Thanks so much for sharing. ~Mari

  • Thank you for sharing your story. It’s wonderful that you allow your children to see and experience emotions from gratitude to grief. When kids see us feeling different emotions, I think it lets them know it’s ok.

  • PragmaticMom says:

    Your story brought tears to my eyes. How wonderful that you were able to share your grandparents memory with your kids and that they understand how special they were to you! My kids are growing up without grandfathers because both passed away decades before they were born but they are lucky to have 2 active grandmothers. It’s such a special connection!

  • This is beautifully written and touching. It reminds me of my own grandparents.

  • What a touching post! My son has lost a grandfather. I so wish he had gotten to spend more time with him.

  • What a beautiful post, Genny. I really struggle with how to teach my children about death and this was such a beautiful story and chance to share your grandparents lives with your children. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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