My grandmother passed away last week, it has been a rough week. I am privileged to have a history of incredibly strong women in my family, my grandmother was no exception. I wasn’t able to be there when she passed, what I did instead was make sure my mom got on a plane. She made it just in time, I think my gran waited for her.
*This is the last time I saw my Grandmother, she was meeting my youngest son for the very first time.
These are cell phone pictures, I am grateful to have them, but I really really wish I had taken
the time to grab my camera to take them, or better yet, let someone else take them so I could be in them!
Being so far away from all of my family, the people I grew up with, is never more difficult than at times like these. Weddings, births, deaths, life-altering events, always throw sharp contrast onto our choice to live on the other side of the globe.
I am trying to communicate with my family as best I can from here, we text A LOT, we FaceTime, and WhatsApp, and Skype. My mom took me (video-FaceTime-me) into the apartment my Grandmother lived in, today. I wanted to see what the culmination of 90 years of life looked like. Honestly, I don’t know what I was expecting. When I was young, her house was always so orderly. Bookshelves filled with collectibles (she collected elephants, and plates and crystal and things, lots of things, all of the things). The collections were neat and dust free and ordered just-so, they were treasures she proudly displayed.
I suppose I was expecting it to look like that, the way I remember. Instead, it was a jumble of all of the things that she had owned. Things that had to be gone through and looked at, sorted, organized and distributed. It seems very cold, like these things she held dear were given warmth and value merely by her presence, almost as if her home is in mourning.
As my family looks through the items and decides what to do with them, we were all asked what we would like, being so far away, I can’t go and touch the things and hold them to see which ones “feel right.” So I asked for the elephants, not all of them (it was an impressive collection) just a few, a couple. My mother dutifully and obligingly took pictures of them, that I then tried to choose from. It all felt so impersonal, so I asked her to FaceTime with me. That is how virtual-video-me, ended up in the apartment.
Aside from seeing some clutter and what feels like the remnants of a life well lived. I saw the most beautiful thing, Photos! Everywhere, on every single surface a frame. Standing proudly in front of those collectibles she so treasured were framed photos of my cousins, and their kids, my mom, my aunts and uncles, me and my family. Everywhere!
It was as if she replaced all of the treasures, with us. We became her treasures, and the photographs of us became her new collection.
That’s when the crying started. I faked a bad connection and hung up (sorry mom) and called back without video. We talked a little more, about the sheer volume of photographs in the otherwise uncluttered apartment. Albums in every wardrobe, stacks of photos in every drawer, waiting to be viewed, held and loved.
I would like to believe she hid them all around the house so she could “find” them again while doing ordinary things. I imagine her going about her day, and opening a drawer to get a pen, and seeing a stack of photographs, a small collection of memories. I hope that she picked them up and thumbed through them often, if not every time she opened the drawer.
I know that next week my family will get together and go through those photographs, together. They will spread them out on the floor and sit amongst them, they will pass them around, they will cry, they will laugh, they will make jokes at my uncles’ expense (sorry Uncle Andrew, but really, that hair) There will be a ton of confusion about who some of these people, that we are somehow related to, are. In those instances, the photos will be flipped over, and the names and dates, printed in my grandmothers’ tidy script will be read. This may or may not provide clarity, but never the less, the photos will be viewed, and held, and loved. The memories will flow right along with the tears, and a small amount of peace will be felt, that we still have these to remember her by.
Nothing can ever lessen the loss of a loved one, there is no amount of video footage or photograph collection that will replace them.
However, I realized something today, something I have always sort of know, or at least suspected.
The photographs we take of ourselves, the memories that we capture, they are not, for now, they are not even for us, they are for later, for the future, for the loved ones left behind. They are the legacy that we leave to show a life well lived.
*Thank you to my mom for the cell phone pictures above.