It's not always easy to say "everything happens for a reason," especially in the face of unfathomable tragedy.
That's pretty much how Bev Sprankle, 61, of Altoona got by in the wake of the death of her daughter and son-in-law to drug overdoses seven and nine years ago.
Her two young grandsons (Kenneth and Jesse) were left without parents, leaving no other option than for Sprankle and her husband, Dean, (the boys' stepgrandfather) to raise them.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski) Mary Emery reads to her 5-year-old twin granddaughters Ava (left) and Zoe Emery in their Duncansville home.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski) Dean and Bev Sprankle of Altoona play Yahtzee with their grandsons Kenny, 17, (left) and Jesse, 15, McElhinney. The Sprankles have been raising the boys for seven years.
The Sprankles recently had moved into a smaller home, hoping to downgrade and enjoy some traveling. All of their children had moved out and started their own lives.
When tragedy hit, it was like starting over for the Sprankles. It wasn't easy, but Bev believes it was meant to be.
"I think the Lord did this for a reason," she said.
The Sprankles are among at least 2.5 million grandparents nationwide raising their grandchildren, according to www.aarp.org.
"In my opinion it's getting more common," Denis Navarro, psychologist at Altoona Regional Health System, said. "From what I see, they love their grandchildren and are trying to help out."
Grandparents raising grandchildren isn't a new phenomenon, but it's something that is sometimes difficult.
Raising two young kids in her 50s wasn't an easy task for Bev. At the time Kenneth, whom Bev calls "Matt" was 10 and Jesse was 8. (They are now 17 and 15 respectively.)
They were active boys and the Sprankles had to shift their roles from doting grandparents to parents who not only were involved in the daily care of the children, but also discipline.
"It was hard. I still wanted to spoil them, but my husband said you can't do this. It took me quite a while," Bev said.
Changing roles is difficult for many grandparents, Navarro said. One day they are visiting and making cookies and buying the children toys, and the next day the children are living with them and the grandparents assume all the responsibility for the children.
For a grandparent, if a child is too rambunctious, it's no big deal, because the parents are the ones responsible.
"Then, the roles change and you're in a parental role," Navarro said. "Grandparents basically have to retool their memories on how do we do this? How do we become parents again?"
Renee Beach, 54, of Altoona had trouble adjusting when she first began raising her grandsons, Michael Wilkes, (now 12) and Nathaniel Wilkes (now 6). Beach began raising the boys almost three years ago because their parents were having difficulties raising the children.
(The boys also have a 9-year-old sister, Ashleigh, who is being raised by their aunt, Nicole Wilkes.)
"I was playing the grandmother role, and I turned into the mom and dad role. We don't get to do a lot of fun things like we used to, with the money situation and vehicles," Beach said. "It's a lot of responsibility at an older age."
Mary Emery, 50, of Duncansville can commiserate. She has been raising her twin 5-year-old granddaughters, Ava and Zoe, since they were born.
Emery's daughter Kristin was 18 and having issues when she gave birth to the girls, so Emery decided to raise them.
"I don't feel young when I put them to bed at 8. The physical part is not like you're 25, but it's nice to have the wisdom at 50," Emery said.
Many grandparents share those feelings.
"They're just older. They're kind of worn out," Navarro said. "It's learn by doing. You get wiser and more patient as you get older. You're not as driven. You might be more aware of what's going on around you, and you're more appreciative."
Some grandparents might look at raising grandchildren as another shot at parenthood.
Emery said she is raising her grandchildren with a greater emphasis on God and family.
"I think a lot of times I am more wanting to teach them differently, just because sometimes I failed with my daughter, because we went that route and what could I have done different. You can't help think that and you don't want that for the next group," Emery said.
About the time the twins were born, Emery had been ordained as a minister. She is a chaplain at Altoona Regional Health System, and God is an essential part of their lives. The girls pray and they talk a lot about Jesus.
"You have to accept what God puts in your hands. I will do the best I can to raise them up the best I can," Emery said.
The Sprankles also raise their grandsons to put God first. The boys attend church programs three days a week and prayer is a big part of the day.
"They're here. You do the best you can and you love them the best you can. They're all God's children," Bev Sprankle said.
When grandparents feel overwhelmed, they might not know where to turn, but Navarro said there are many resources.
Altoona Regional Health System offers services at an access center available by calling 889-2141.
"I think grandparents have to know when they're in over their heads. They've taken this on and can't envision not being able to do it. They have to admit it's overwhelming," Navarro said. "They have to look at everything realistically."
Despite the difficulties grandparents face, the common thread is they feel blessed.
Bev Sprankle believes her grandchildren may have been spared from a much different childhood, considering their parents were using drugs.
"If they were in that situation, I believe they would be out in the street and in trouble and maybe on drugs themselves," Bev said.
"You have to make sacrifices, Emery said, "and God creates each one of us to be something. We all have a purpose here in life. I want to give them a chance to live that purpose."