Thursday, November 8, 2018

I Am My Grandmother's Legacy, a post by @GiselleRenarde

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.

I'd 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 about death.

But nothing like that happened when my grandmother died.

She 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 for it.

After she'd died, one of my aunts asked, "What was Mummy's legacy?"

Her 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.

In that 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 memory.

I matter. I mattered to her. I'm not worthless. She saw my value.

My 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 that.

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 to her.

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?"

I never returned the sentiment until after she died.  As the colour drained from her skin, I petted her cheek and said, "I love you, Grandma." 

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.

My 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.


  1. Giselle, I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. Thank you for sharing your stories. Things like you described are the memories you'll treasure. Hang in there!

  2. Dear Giselle - I am so sorry. Still, it sounds as though her death was a good death, not painful, surrounded by her family - a death with meaning after a long life.

    It's odd that you say you and your family are not comfortable expressing emotion. There's so much intense and realistic emotion in your stories.

    Bless your grandmother, and you.

  3. Giselle, this is so moving. It's so true that as each generation grows old and passes away, the younger ones have to be keepers of memories and legacies. Your advice to make donations to public libraries in your grandmother's memory is beautiful.