One of my oldest memories of my grandmother is when she was sick. My mom says she was sick for about eight years before she died and I was eight when she passed away so she must have been sick the whole time I knew her. I don’t think I realized how sick my grandmother was. I remember she did not go out of the house a lot. She spent most of her time cooking, it seemed.
In this particular memory, she was crying and she said to me, “Sonya, do you want to see how they are hurting me?” And she showed me her arm, which was bruised and had a small wound from a blood test. I didn’t know who “they” were but imagined them to be pretty horrible. In retrospect my grandmother had a great sense of humor, sharp and somewhat teasing, so I don’t know if she was teasing me. I remember her smock that day – the blue one with the patches of flowered fabric. I especially remember the way her hands looked. They were worn and veined, but always soft from the Crisco she used for, well, everything she cooked. She was sitting in their kitchen, which is where I always remember her. I remember her being small and fragile and soft-stepping.
Yet I also know she was strong and resilient and solid. I remember that she SAW me.
When my grandparents died, I was very worried about them. They died almost exactly two years apart and I imagined they were in heaven together, but I was not sure. As the good Catholic School student that I was, I prayed for them every night. I believed that I could talk to them in my prayers so every night I spoke to them in my prayers. Naturally, they did not answer back, but I felt that they could hear me and it comforted me.
When I was in graduate school, I took a course in group therapy techniques. During one of the classes we discussed how people achieve closure upon the death of a loved one and how therapists need to be aware of how this need may manifest. Our professor described how after his father died he had dreams of a figure who represented his father (it was actually the character played by Jimmy Smitts in the TV series “NYPD Blue”) and this represented needed closure for him.
A few weeks after this class I had a dream. I woke in one of those groggy states in which what just happened in your brain is still so new and incredibly, heartbreakingly real. In my dream, my grandparents came back to me. They came to see me at my age, which at that time was about 26. When my grandmother saw me in my dream, she just cried. Then they told me that they were okay and they were obviously together. They gave me gifts – gifts inappropriate for that time and my age, gifts for a child. But I loved them. They gave me a few coins and some trinkets. My grandmother told me, “I am so sorry that I missed all these years of yours. I am so sorry that I missed you growing up.”
I had felt for many years that I never fully had closure from their deaths. And this dream gave me a sense of peace because my grandmother was able to see me now and because I knew that she also missed me as much as I missed her. It gave me tremendous peace to know that they were together and are whole.
Death can be scary to a child, but my parents were very open about it. They demystified it for me. They told me it was a part of life. They told me that my grandmother would always be with me. And she is. She is a part of who I am. And that is why the telling of this story is important. Because it is MY story. It is who I am.
We all deserve to tell our stories.
“Stories must be shared. We live alone, we die alone, and we write alone. But a journey that is not shared is a poorer one. To be ‘seen’ and ‘heard’ by others defines identity. The process does not end at a certain age. Something is added to my life if someone, with an open mind, listens to my story, hears my music, and sees what I have created.”
Written by Ragna Adlandsvik, a Norwegian educator who created writing groups for elders, and quoted from the book “Narrative Gerontology in Research and Practice” by Kate de Medeiros (pg .25)
More about this soon…..
2 thoughts on “A Story of Mine to Share”
Love this, Sonya. Makes me think of my Grandmother who was the inspiration for my life’s work. Looking forward to more…
Thanks, Cathy. I think one of my greatest gifts from these memories as I grow older is comfort with the complexity – my grandmother was sick and strong, she was small but powerful…..people who are sick are not consumed by their identity as “frail”, unless we let that happen…