The words we leave behind

My beloved grandmother has been gone exactly ten years today. Her death remains the single most painful experience of my life. I miss her more than I ever imagined missing anyone, and that longing has not been diminished by the time that has passed. A decade later, I would still give almost anything to see her again.

When my family was deciding what to do with her things, her death was still too raw for me to contemplate living without her. I didn’t want her things; I wanted her. As I sat there, silent and distraught over being in her house without her, my father slid her wedding band over to me. It’s become one of my most precious belongings. Even though some have told me I shouldn’t, I’ve worn that ring nearly every day since I got it. I don’t care what other people say; I want to look down at my hand and be reminded that even though she’s gone now, she was here once.

Of course, I have other things that came from her. Presents she gave me, cards she wrote. And I was adamant that the red leather photo album she kept under her living room table be brought to our house. It mostly has pictures of my father and uncles as small children, but there are others too: My grandmother as a four-year-old. My grandmother when she was my age, wearing a pretty coat and clutching her handbag. A young version of my grandfather lying in the grass on a hillside, wearing a stylish fedora. Another one of my grandfather with his arm around another woman with the playful caption “boo!” I love looking at the familiar faces in these pictures, but they can only give me small glimpses into that long-ago time.

Her journals provide a somewhat better view. Unfortunately it turns out that my face and laugh aren’t the only things I inherited from my grandmother: her journal entries were every bit as sporadic as mine are. Two small notebooks spanning all the way from 1989 to 1996 are all I have. There may have been others, but if so, my grandmother either threw them away or they just got lost at some point. I wish there were more.

I’d missed her terribly while I was an exchange student in America, so before she died, I had made vague plans to spend more time with her before going off to university. I wanted to get to know her as a person rather than just as my grandmother. And then she was just gone. Now, there are so many questions I never got to ask, and they no longer have answers. Instead I have her words. They are not enough, not by far. But she can still speak to me through them. As I was reading one of the journals today, a particular passage, written in May of 1991, struck right home:

“Maybe it’s because we think that our lives are about to run out and we haven’t achieved what we were hoping for.”

It pains me to think that my grandmother had dreams that went unfulfilled. She probably did; no one ever has all their wishes come true. Some things are outside our control, and there’s no amount of hard work that can change that. I hope she knew that her life was worthwhile, despite the things she didn’t achieve. My life was made infinitely less when she was no longer in it. But even if she did know that, would she have chased a different life if she was given the chance? What would she say to me if she were here now and knew that I’m fighting my own dreams every step of the way, because I’m scared it might not work out? I doubt she’d want me to spend the remaining years of my life as I have spent the past ten. She loved me as much as I loved her. She would want the same for me that I wanted for her: Every dream fulfilled.

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2 thoughts on “The words we leave behind

  1. skyeblaine says:

    Such a large loss. I am sorry. But remember, every time you think of her, here she is. With you, again. And again.

  2. Heidi says:

    I would prefer to really have her with me again (obviously), but I’m glad for all the memories she gave me.

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