Those Childless Moments Hit Hard

The other day I was walking the dog down Cedar Street east of where I live when a car pulled up and parked at a house just ahead of me. I watched as a gray-haired couple got out. They turned and looked toward the corner. The school bus had just let out its passengers, and now three children were running toward the older folks shouting, “Grandma! Grandpa!” I was barely past them before I started to cry.
Part of my emotion came from what’s been happening with my father. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I hurried to California last month when my dad became very ill with congestive heart failure and a blocked aortic valve. When I first got there, it looked like he could die any minute. He was so pale and so thin. Every time he dozed off, I looked to make sure he was still breathing. He rallied somewhat with the help of medication but faces heart surgery early next month.
While I was in California, we looked through piles of family photos of my grandparents and his grandparents. Dad showed me where things are in the house “in case I conk out.” We talked a lot about death, not an easy subject, but he needed to talk about it, and I needed to listen.
For my brother’s side of the family, Dad is “Grandpa.” But I never made him a grandfather. All I have to offer is myself and a dog. And I will never be a grandmother. Yes, my stepdaughter’s children called me “Grandma” for a while, but I haven’t spoken to either of them in years. They have their own grandmother and great-grandmother, but I don’t have any kids or grandkids I can claim as my own. My grandparents are all gone. So is my mother. In a few days, months or years, my father will be gone, too. So I cried as I walked the dog through our muddy streets on a cold November afternoon. It was just one of those moments.
Many of my readers here are younger than I am, wondering how it will be years from now if they never have children. I tell them it will get easier. It’s true. Once you get past menopause, once the time of worrying about whether or not you will become parents is over, you accept for the most part that your life is about other things than raising children. You get a lot more comfortable with the idea. But there will be moments like mine on Cedar Street when the reality hits you like a baseball bat and the tears come. As my dad is fond of saying, “That’s just the way it is.”
As always, I thank you for being here, and I welcome your comments.

Grieving? Find Your ‘Fishtrap’ Experience


We sat on a circle on the deck, warming in the sun as we wrote poetry. Nearby, the river rushed noisily toward the sea. Squirrels chased each other down the spruce tree and across the deck while a doe silently watched from a few feet away. This was the scene during my mornings last week at the Fishtrap writers workshop in Eastern Oregon. Writers from all over the country gathered to study with experts in all different types of writing. I was one of a dozen in Holly Hughes’ poetry class, a wonderful blend of meditation, mindfulness and creative writing. We writers quickly bonded. There were young people here, too, participating in a program for teens. Young or old, parents or not, married or not, it didn’t matter because we had come together to do something we love. More than spouses or parents or grandparents, we were writers. And I did not feel bad even once about not having children.
In contrast, when I got back to the real world, I visited The Grotto in Portland, which is like a giant Catholic garden, with sculptures and paintings telling the stories of Jesus, Mary and Joseph amid the trees and flowers. Recorded music plays above an outdoor chapel as you walk through the gardens, pausing to think about the Bible stories depicted in the art. It’s lovely, but it’s also full of people with their kids. I was walking through the rose garden when I heard a child call “Baba!” I turned to see a woman about my age stop and hold her arms open wide as her granddaughter ran into her embrace. Suddenly I wanted to weep. I had been looking at religious scenes for 45 minutes, feeling nothing, but this I felt. It was one of those moments. If you’re childless, you know what I mean.
But let’s get back to the joy of Fishtrap. If we immerse ourselves in things we love, we can stop dwelling on the children we don’t have and just enjoy being with people who like to do the same things we like to do. There were some people at Fishtrap who were not writers, who had come as chaperones for their teen-aged kids. And you know what? I felt sorry for them because they always had to worry about the kids. I didn’t have to worry about anyone but myself. I was totally free to write and think and make new friends.
The moral of this story is that you can find relief from your grief by immersing yourself in something you love. It doesn’t have to be writing; it can be anything that takes you out of yourself and into something that captures your mind and heart.
Is there something you can do, someplace you can go to give yourself that Fishtrap feeling?