Learning to love through loss; a letter to my grandmother
I was thinking about Christmas presents tonight.
I’m fortunate to where I have some extra time, as we won’t celebrate until I’m back in the States. With the time, I over-think it all. What would my sister like? What could I give my professor’s family (whom I’m spending the 25th with)? My mental list scrolled to the hardest question to answer: my grandmother.
Sadness welled up, as I knew this would be the last gift I could give her. What could possibly show the appreciation I have for her? What could possibly capture the awe and love I have for her? Always one to wear beautiful jewelry or find any reason she could to look fine, my grandmother carried a humble elegance about her—not just in look, but in composure. She married an army-focused volcano of a husband, while her own lava rose to meet him wherever necessary. That’s what I loved most about my grandmother: while she might seem oblivious to others, she was sharp, keen—she knew what was going on in a room that naively assumed she wasn’t listening.
Three days before I set off for Italy, I was told she had terminal cancer, and I couldn’t expect to have her around by the time I came home. Friends poured in their love to fill me up, as I raged like terrible waves between unimaginable excitement and a loss that will never leave me. Resilient as my grandmother is, she’s managed well despite the inevitable. In a few weeks, we’ll get to cook together. I want her to know that I didn’t take my Italian cooking class to impress anyone. I didn’t do it for any credit. I took the class so I could show my grandmother that her own gift won’t go unnoticed—legacy will not be broken with my generation.
I may be strange in how fascinated I am with death, regret, and the dying. The most terrible part of all isn’t just that you lose someone’s presence—grand as they are. To me, it’s like we lose a bag of tricks, too. Grandmothers and grandfathers, of the world or of our own, lived life as best they could. It didn’t go the way they expected. It didn’t go perfectly. They often say they worked too hard, or that they wish they lived with more love and less worry. But they lived well when they could, and tried when they thought they could try no more.
I’m quite harsh with America’s collective off-putting nature with the elderly: don’t listen to them, shove them into a nursing home, visit every once and a while to show that you care. I can’t stand that. People should be more appreciated as they age, like a fine wine. What a horrible shame, to lose sight of someone who’s a cause to your existence.
In my twenty-two short years, I’ve assembled all these tricks and tools and rules of thumb for when life hurts, sways, or jerks about. I love to imagine all the ways our elders came to learn life, how to ride its waves. Whether they were aware of it or not, our grandparents amassed an incredible amount of wisdom in living to such a point. Taking anyone of such age without high regard or marvel, to me, is most arrogant and selfish. They have pained what you have not, they have seen more, they have experienced more—it is awfully unwise not to listen to what they have to say. To disregard a grandmother’s heuristics to the chime that she wasn’t a major part of a technology or modern day fluff is high ignorance. They lived in an age without your comfortable toys—they’re the people you should listen to when things, materials, and screens don’t fulfill you. It’s the people in our lives that fill us up. It’s your grandparents that you should seek when you have your heart broken. It’s the oldest person around that you should ask for directions. People ignore the elderly thinking that they have no idea what they’re talking about. Wrong. They know and have more retrospective and reflective experience than you, and if that’s the case, you should shut up, sit down, put light-box away, and ask them about their stories. Ask them what they did in the tough situations. Ask them what they thought, experienced, felt, and moved. And hold their hand. Always, whenever you get the chance to in life, hold someone’s hand.
I’ve gone on a while here, but the ultimate reason behind this post is that I want my grandmother to know that I paid attention, and will continue to. I think we should celebrate someone’s life before the funeral and outwave of emotion. While we have the chance, people should know how much we love them. To know where we stand, or to know that you paid attention, or to simply be touched or loved and cared for provides tremendous relief to the dying, whether that death is in fifty years or a month.
I once called my grandmother outside the library, last summer. I was heartbroken and lonely, unable to capture the sadness I felt for not being more in tune with my family. Sometimes when you call people, you’re hoping for them to say something in particular in order to make you feel better, perhaps validated. My grandmother has this magical ability to surprise, in that context, because she would say something I couldn’t expect, which would make me all better. When I went fishing for gems with my parents or friends and sometimes feel unfinished, my grandmother would give me a key to a treasure chest, leaving words and loving advice that I could use timelessly. She was gold, and her smile and laugh were far more valuable.
My grandmother would constantly speak to love. She believed in love. She poured as much love as she could into what she could touch. When her marriage was difficult, she was the opposite of fragile, and held on—something many today can’t say. When new technology rushed in all around her, she held onto the simple, beautiful things in life. Yes, she could get as hot-handed with politics as anyone—she had an opinion—but it was merely as a result of her ability to believe. And I will never forget how much she made me feel as if I was someone worth believing in. It’s a feeling I want to reciprocate and build in others—to have that magic in being able to make people feel loved, appreciated, and full of wonder.
When I questioned everything, she would gently bring me back down from the storm I had flown up and into. She was such an expert at this I would never want the conversation to end, simply because it was such a pleasure to hear her perspective.
And to my grandmother: I love you so much. I will never forget the times I ran across the street to escape life, to get a back scratch from your ever-long-and-colored nails, to have your hands in my hair. You were and will always be the best listener. You will always have the best sweet tea. Your cooking was masterful alchemy. And I wish I could replicate that potato salad you’ve become so divine at making. And just the way you loved Christmas. How patient you were. How, when no one else was around to hear, you would tell me the truth—and I could see how interwoven everything was. Your honesty was refreshing when I was so confused and torn between family constructs and stories. When I was unruly or angry, you could snap me out of it better than most—and I’ve come to treat myself in that very same fashion—kind words and soft inner dialogue goes a long way.
You always told me how important my education was, especially with college. And your support with Italy meant the world to me.
I’ll see you soon.
I love you grandma,