My grandmother died.
The past month has gone by in
a haze of hospital visits as my grandmother--my favourite of all the
humans--took a turn for the worse. One week ago, she was taken off food
and water. I got up the next morning and tried to wash some dishes
before leaving for the hospital. She wasn't dead yet, but that's when it
really hit me: she would be, in the next few days. I had to come to
terms with losing her.
I cried into my dishwater. I
sobbed so hard I thought I was going to throw up. After that, I realized
I'd started speaking about her in the past tense. Technically, she was
still alive, but barely. Just barely.
We were there at her bedside when she took her final breath: all of her many daughters and me.
never watched someone die before. A few of my aunts had warned me about
the horrific expressions they'd seen on the faces of loved ones. Or
unsettling sounds they'd made. As my grandmother's breath slowed, my
aunts wanted me to be prepared for the things they'd found disturbing
But nothing like that happened when my grandmother died.
just stopped breathing. That's it. Her breath slowed down, and then it
stopped. She slipped away. No strange expressions or noises. It was
such a peaceful passing. I'm eternally grateful that I got to be there
After she'd died, one of my aunts asked, "What was Mummy's legacy?"
family. Everyone agreed about that. She was proud of her
accomplishments and her work, but the one thing that lives on now that
she's gone is this big family she produced.
moment, when my aunts and I talked about legacies, I stopped feeling
like a worthless person with a useless career. I am my grandmother's
legacy. There are no other storytellers in my family. If I don't
preserve the stories she told me--of her life, of her parents, of her
grandparents--who will? Her generation is gone. I must preserve their
I matter. I mattered to her. I'm not worthless. She saw my value.
grandmother believed in me, even when I didn't. She believed my work
was important, even when I claimed I was just in it for a quick buck.
She knew there were easier ways to pay the rent, and she was right about
She was proud that her grandchild grew up to
become a writer. In my family, we're not showy with the emotions. We
don't go around saying "I love you" or "I'm proud of you." In my entire
life, my mother has never said those things to me. I've never said them
But my grandma told me she was proud of my
writing career. She told me that all the time. She said "I love you" to
me only once, and I was so uncomfortable with the bigness of the emotion
that my response was: "Shut up! Why are you saying that?"
never returned the sentiment until after she died. As the colour
drained from her skin, I petted her cheek and said, "I love you,
Maybe I didn't say it in words while she was
alive, but I know she knew how I felt. I showed her by spending time
with her. Lots of time. That wasn't solely for her benefit. She was
truly my favourite person on the planet. I'm so thankful for the nearly
40 years we had together.
I will miss her forever, but
every time I start feeling worthless, I'll be able to remind myself I
have stories to tell. I have value. I am my grandmother's legacy.
grandmother was always an avid reader--she'd read the dictionary if
there was nothing else around--and a lifelong library user. If you've
been following my many posts about my grandmother's life and you feel
inclined to commemorate her death, I encourage readers to make a
donation in her memory to your local public library system. I think
she'd like the idea that there were more books and services available to
more people because of her.
Heartfelt thanks for allowing me to share our stories with you.