A Death in the Family

Written by on January 28, 2013 in Learning to Breathe - 2 Comments

I was going to write about something completely different for this month, but something happened that put all of that on hold and made me want to write about a more personal topic: my grandmother.

My grandmother just passed away after reaching the ripe old age of 100 (and three quarters, as my daughter likes to say). She was already ill for many months beforehand so her death was not unexpected. Still, there is something so final about someone dying, even when those of us whose life they have touched know that they were ready to go and that the leaving is actually an end to their suffering, that it hurts and surprises you even if it was expected. The realisation that my grandmother will not be there the next time I go to visit my family is a difficult one and one that hits me like a fist to the stomach.

Over the course of the years, my beliefs on things like God, life, and death have evolved to a degree that death does not frighten me any more. I believe very strongly in God and in reincarnation and am spiritual without being religious. This belief in reincarnation helps me considerably when it comes to my Grandmother. It helps my children too, who although still quite young understand now that their Great-Grandmother, who they were close to and looked forward to seeing when visiting, will no longer be there to hold them on her lap. The concept of reincarnation and the idea that she will always be there in our hearts, looking over us, and reunited with us someday, makes the situation easier to bear. But it does not take the pain away or make that feeling of her now being missing from our lives, in the way that she was in them before, any better.

My Grandmother was my last surviving Grandparent. As a writer, I insisted on capturing her story in some audiofiles so that I can one day have the opportunity to write it, for it was an incredible one. She managed to survive and flourish even through a World War that claimed so many of her friends and relatives. But the same war that had such detrimental effects on so many helped my Grandmother to showcase her true strong character and her skills as a Medical Doctor. Many who she worked for, and with, saw those skills and kept promoting her, despite her religion, her sex, and her not searching at all for any self-importance or self-gain.

My Grandmother was such an incredible person that I can only hope to even somewhat follow in just a tiny bit of her footsteps. If anything, at least I’ve inherited her strength, her fortitude and determination, her intelligence and love of learning, and her ability to never give up hope. The fact that my Grandmother continued studying English and taking mile-long walks, even after turning 100 years old, until the day that her first stroke came four months ago, is a testament to that personal strength. Though, in her later days, she often complained that she really was ready to go, it took her quite some time before her body completely let go of life. Even in her sickness, my Grandmother retained that resilience that she held in life. Having lived for over a century, she will be¬†remembered and admired by so many.

I still can’t believe that the next time I go to stay in my parents’ home that my Grandmother will no longer be there waiting. I question now whether I spent enough time communicating with her in her last years of life. Could I have been a better Granddaughter and called more often? Could I have spent more time with her when I was visiting instead of being so focused on myself and the children? These thoughts will always cross my mind now. I will always miss the last moments that I missed. I guess that is the nature of death: no matter how prepared you think you are for it, it somehow still takes you by surprise.

There are so many memories of my Grandmother that I hold dear to me. I remember her always being on my side when I was a child — around the age that my children are now — no matter how naughty I may have been and how well-deserved the anger of my parents. My Grandmother was sometimes my last-standing ally. And I remember so very clearly the love that I felt from her always. I recall, as a little girl, ice skating on the pond outside her house and yelling “Babushka” excitedly when I saw her coming home from work and towards me to watch me attempt a turn. I also remember my silent tears on the train that took us out of that country, where my Grandparents had to stay, to a new land that would bring with it much opportunity and freedom. The only thing on my mind then was that this could be good-bye and that I may never see my dear Grandparents and Great Aunt (my Grandmother’s sister and my other ally) again.

In fact, the world changed several years after that big move. Everything changed. I grew up and became more involved in life’s everyday challenges, more self-obsessed perhaps, time passed, there were many other things to worry about and cry over… And then one miraculous day, the walls fell and my Grandparents and Great Aunt were allowed to visit us. I still remember so many moments of that visit. It would be the last time I would see my Grandfather and Great Aunt again and I would cry many days after they left, teenage tears this time, for missing them.

But as fortune would have it, my strong Grandmother would go on to outlive most of her relatives — including all her siblings and her husband — and would, one day, come to spend the rest of her days living with my parents. By that time, I was older and working and living somewhere else: in some other state and then in some other country. I would see my Grandmother when I came to visit, of course, and I would sit and chat with her for a while, catching up on the latest political news and viewpoints (she always had a very active opinion) and the latest gossip from family and family friends. But then I would be on my way somewhere more exciting where things were happening and life was living. Over time, my Grandmother became more of a fixture that I was accustomed to and who’s being there I rather took for granted. I did not call home enough and I did not spend enough time talking with her when I did call. And now that she is gone, and I couldn’t even be there for her last moments, I can never take back or eliminate that regret of not being more involved with her when she was alive. I can only now miss her in her death.

It is rather an unfair, cruel twist of fate that so many of us live life running so fast forward or holding so tightly backward that we miss the importance of today and live to regret missing it tomorrow. So often we don’t notice or appreciate the significant people and moments in our lives until it’s too late and until we have lost them: whether to old age, to them growing up and leaving home, to life and fate just separating us, or to them leaving because we’ve taken them for granted all this time.

There are so many moments of missing what’s really important that I can regret today. But I don’t want to live my life in regret all the time. I want to be able to taste, smell, and breathe the pleasure of each day. I want to appreciate and love the people in my life who are longing for that love and appreciation and who really deserve it because they help to make my life worth the living. I want to be there for my family and to be close with those who still remain so that one day, when it is someone else’s turn to go, we don’t feel that we missed the essential moments that we could have had together.

To be honest, I’m yet trying to understand the purpose that this life has laid out for me. I am after all, even now, trying to find my way and my footing; and I am often still lost among the things that matter least but that I sometimes hold onto tightest. Perhaps by the time that I turn 100, I will have figured out the right way forward. I hope so anyway. And I imagine that the purpose of life is in that discovery as well as in the understanding of how to improve oneself. Perhaps I will be working on me forever (I do take a lot of work). But, for right now, I will do all I can to appreciate those in my life who give it meaning…


Babusinka, we all miss you so much and we send you loads of kisses and hugs and so much love to keep you company wherever you may be, so that one day perhaps we can all be together again in another lifetime…

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2 Comments on "A Death in the Family"

  1. Leora February 4, 2013 at 2:38 AM · Reply

    Julia, your grandmother was a truly remarkable woman. What a great tribute to her!

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