My father’s mother died a year ago. I miss her. After a debilitating stroke, she spent twelve years unable to speak, eleven of them in a nursing home. Really, I’d been missing her for over a decade before her death. It’s hard to recall the sound of her voice. During those twelve years, I sometimes had dreams that she was talking to me, and I awoke with a lighter heart, until I remembered.
Premature death is tragic. The death of a grandparent is a different kind of loss, painful in its own way. She was here so long that she left an imprint on my world that cannot be filled by anyone or anything else. Her fingerprints are on my life, my psyche, my soul. I’m still not sure exactly what to make of a world without her in it. When someone lives so long, and so fully, her loss is all the more breathtaking because some part of you has always secretly believed that she is immortal.
She wasn’t. But she is eternal. In her eleven years in a nursing home, she bore the indignities and discomforts of her situation with constant grace, and received everyone with unflinching love. That kind of goodness radiates. It ripples kindness and humanity out into the cold darkness of distance and indifference.
It matters. Our lives matter.
Writing is the only way I know to fumble through that darkness. I don’t have my grandmother’s strength, her beautiful courage, or her amazing grace. All I had to offer at her memorial service were words, and they ended up being, in large part, about how inadequate language can be:
We called her “Gram”—a dynamic and straightforward name to match her personality. She was no one’s little old grandma. She was our Queen, her hands strong enough to yank the weeds from the garden, and beautiful enough to wear the enormous opal ring that looked ridiculous on anyone else. Like a Queen, she bestowed treasures from the top drawer of her dresser—magical things like tiny vials of perfume. She was a benevolent monarch, always smiling and laughing. And her hands were always beautiful and strong. As I try to write about her, words fail me, as they failed her years ago. There is too much to say about a life so full of goodness and beauty, about suffering borne not only with patience, but with a grace that defies my understanding. In the end, words will fail. In the end, the things we say and do pale beside the way we move through this imperfect world. Gram was our Queen, and she walked in grace, uprooting life’s weeds and trailing beauty behind her. The monarchy ended, we move forward into a strange new world, clutching in our hands the gifts she has given us, her memory hovering like perfume.
Grandparents, hover over us. Shake the weight of years from your limbs, sending flakes of light drifting down into our darkness. Fingerprint our memories with your strength. Make us better than we are.