Long before I knew any other meaning of the word, bittersweet was the type of solid chocolate I used to make brownies. As a child, I found the taste more bitter than sweet, as did my siblings, and my mother never worried that one of us would eat the baking chocolate. In high school I remember coming across an essay by the prolific John Leonard in Life Magazine musing on the word bittersweet in relation to feelings. (I actually tried to find the essay today, but had no success.)

The word captivated me and I vividly remember realizing that it was the perfect word to describe some of the feeling I had had  but been unable to express. Perhaps you can recall your own experience of a happy feeling tinged with sadness. Leonard said that after childhood with its more clearly delineated sad and happy, we need a new word for this complex emotion.

Lately I feel it most strongly around my grandchildren. Somehow I failed to realize that they, like my own children, grow up. I delight in their growing maturity, their expressive vocabularies, their distinct developing personalities. At the same time I miss their eager toddler selves, ready to plop onto my lap and just snuggle. I realize that it is time to once more pack up the Fisher Price little people, used by my daughter, then stored and brought back out for the grandchildren. Sturdy toys, bought used in 1977, they will still be useful for any eventual great grandchildren. But I may not still be alive to watch their play. A bittersweet thought, for sure.

So take a minute and ponder the word for yourself. It isn’t exactly nostalgia, nor is it melancholy. It is its own perfect self: bittersweet.

13 thoughts on ““Bittersweet”

  1. Deciding to give up a much younger lost love so that she could do what she had to do to experience life as she should, without someone much older (me) holding her back.
    That is still bittersweet, 30 years later.
    Sad for my loss, happy for her.
    Best wishes, Pete.


  2. I have had this bittersweet feeling with my son watching him grow up. We raised him to be independent, and I wouldn’t want him to be any other way. He seldom needs our help and advice any more, but there is a small part of me that misses that. On the other hand, he damn well better not move home at 26. Ha-ha!

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  3. I hardly noticed my own children growing in the way I notice my grandchildren have sprouted between visits. At the time, you don’t realise how quickly it happens. And then it’s passed.

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  4. Having our oldest grandson here is definitely bittersweet. He started spending time with us in the summer when he was four. Now at 17, he is entering his senior year of high school. He sees the toy box and toys purchased for him and smiles as he sees the younger toddler grandchildren play with ‘his’ toys. College is on the horizon. Where did all those years go?

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  5. I was only saying the same to my daughter yesterday Elizabeth. That we get our own fan club when we have children, then they grow & find their own lives.
    Then the grand babies come along & we have that little fan club again for awhile then they grow & start their own lives.
    I’m not sure if I will be here for the next little ones… yes bittersweet indeed!
    Fan club = Mum & Nanny are exciting to be around with lots of love, kisses & hugs 😉
    Bless you,


  6. Bittersweet – exactly how I’m feeling at the moment. My middle son has recently moved to begin a new business with his girlfriend: I am delighted for them but know they will rarely travel down here now. Our Christmas family plans have already been scuppered and we missed them at the big family gathering this last weekend. They must live their lives and I wholeheartedly support them in doing so but … And my eldest grandson is now nine. He is still part of my fan club alongside his 6-yr-old brother but yes – he is growing up. I am aware that these moments are particularly precious now.

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