The Ways We Remember

Every single year, I forget the precise day and time that she died. I wasn’t there when it happened; I was laying on my couch in my cool, dark, apartment, alone and exhausted. Earlier that day, I was driving by a McDonald’s and the light turned red and my phone rang. I can’t remember what exactly my mother said, but it was vague enough to make me think there was still hope and urgent enough to make me drive fast.

I remember it was early June and I remember the sound of my mother as she collapsed on her knees next my grandmother’s bed, weeping and broken. I remember the very last thing I said to my grandmother, at the end of the late May yard sale we held at her house. It was the most ironic of last words — see you later. I don’t remember if I said I love you but I like to think I did; she always said it to me before leaving.

Time has a way of dulling the edges of our things, memory and pain alike. We remember the hurt but through a haze; our bodies only able to recall the physical ways grief changed us moments at a time. All at once is too much. Grief changes forms over time, but what time doesn’t alleviate is the deep longing for someone you’ve lost, the unforgiving realization that gone is gone, the lingering ache of their absence.

I remember the justification I gave to my grief — that because it was only my grandmother and grandmothers were expected to die at some point, the depth of my sadness was a little silly. Too heavy. So I said I felt it for others — for my grandfather, who lost his partner and love of over 50 years and for my mother, who lost her own. Now those are people who deserve their sadness, I would think, and I wept for them. But I wept plenty for myself too, because she was my grandmother and she was one of the most important people in my world. If time has done anything, it has taught me to honor that. Yes, her death was something that would have happened in my lifetime, if life played out fairly. But she was still one of my people, and her love built parts of my heart, and the space she left is large and unfillable.

I love to imagine my grandmother holding my son, knowing how much she would love his beautiful curls and infectious giggle. I imagine it as if it were a memory, as if the two lived at the same time, that she could see his face and he hers. I often think about where he was before I knew him, and where she might be now, and if those two places might be the same.

But it is early June and I am thinking of her and of those last days, trying to temper the grief with the best memories I have. I am left with the deep knowledge that I was so loved by her, and that love has helped create who I am. And who I am is helping to shape who my son becomes. In that way, she lives with me. I see her in my mother’s face, and in the way my mother looks at my son. She was here — and because of that so are we. I will always remember that.

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