Three years ago right before Easter, I booked a flight to go
home and say goodbye to my Grandmother who was dying. The night before I was scheduled to leave,
she made a miraculous recovery.
I cancelled the flight for a full refund and made it a point
to visit the US for thanksgiving. I considered
it a great gift to be able to see her ‘one last time.’ We had turkey, I took
her shoe shopping, I asked her about her life and she told me about the farm
where she grew up.
The visit conjured up a million more questions about her life. There was so much I needed to know and not enough time, especially because we lived on different continents.
A year later, right before Christmas she was diagnosed with
stage four pancreatic cancer. A death sentence. I felt like I was losing her
all over again and it physically hurt. Turns out it was a misdiagnosis, she indeed had cancer but a much less
aggressive form. The pain for our family was
tangible as it felt like we lost her twice...but then we got two more chances to appreciate her.
The following Christmas my Grandmother gave me the most valuable gift I had ever
received. She knew about my interest in her history so she gave me a handwritten memory journal. It's super retro-looking so she must have had it for ages. The little album has questions about her childhood, teen years, marriage and children. In her true matter-of-fact style, she does
not wax-on emotionally but answers simply, sometimes with one or two words in her secret (barely legible) handwriting.
When I start
missing her now, I open the little book and it reminds me of how down to Earth she was. She would probably tell me to cheer up- that death is part of life, that she was lonely, ready to go, and that I should just get on with it. Oh and to pray. She definitely would definitely tell me to pray.
One question that struck a chord with me was "What fads do you remember best?"- and she writes that in the 1940's they wore rolled up jeans
and men’s white tee shirts. How cool is that? I love the rebelliousness and the androgynous
confidence such an outfit embodies. As a way to reconnect with her I’m going to rock this simple look with the bright red lipstick she wore when she was young.
|Doing my best to channel her strength|
After she died I mourned all the conversations we would never have, especially about parenting because I'm so new to the game. Then I found this letter she wrote me years ago- right before I married Matt, when my Mom was having trouble coming to terms with me permanently living in Australia.
My grandmother said “give your Mom some slack, she misses
you and knows she won’t see much of you or the grandchildren. She will accept
whatever makes you happy. We Moms think we know that is best for our children
but we are not always right.”
|Words of wisedom|
Now that I'm a mother myself I see her point from an entirely different perspective. A little snippet of the parenting advice I craved just sitting around in my nightstand for me to discover at just the right time (I had been using the letter as a bookmark.)
The last time I saw my grandmother, one year ago at Easter,
she had gone downhill. Our visit was cut
short due to her poor health but I was able to snap the only two photos I have of my-sweet-Lavinia in her great-grandmother’s arms.
On my trip to Tasmania in January I found a vintage spoon with the Sydney Opera House on it. My Gram had a souvenir spoon collection of her travels so I bought this one for her. I remember talking to the postal worker (he thought spoons were an odd thing to collect) and we chuckled about how the postage costed more than the spoon itself. Amidst our chatter and corralling my toddler, I almost forgot to include the little handwritten post-it note I wrote to include in her package.
|My Grandmother's collection|
That little post-it note would become my last words to my grandmother. Had I only known when I wrote it, I would have penned her a novel, told her how much I loved her and how she was one of my strongest role models growing up. I would have promised to tell my daughter where she gets her hands and eyebrows from, how her Great-Gram was a pillar of the community being an elected official and working mother in the 1950's, how she was funny and beautiful without realizing it.
She took a turn for the worse in late February and again I
found myself willing her to hang on for just one last time. Unfortunately my 'just one last time's' were all used up.
My grandmother died in March
and it was killing me that I couldn't remember when we had last spoken or what we talked about specifically.
I was beside myself because I didn't know if my Grandmother received the gift I sent her before she went into the hospital for the last time. Eventually my Mom sent me this photo:
She found the spoon and my note next to my grandmothers favorite chair. Gram would have seen it just a few days before she passed away. I would go out on a limb and say that this would count as our last conversation, as one-sided as it may seem. But she knew I was thinking of her and I was able to have my 'one last time.'
Labels: ExPat Life, Family, healing, Loss, parenting