Following the cobblestone walkway to her front door on Cape Cod, I am marveling at the fact that at ninety years old she is still living on her own. I am about to ring the doorbell when she pulls the door open and stands before me, small but steady on her feet. Her eyes show joy at my arrival, and I bend slightly to embrace her. After so many years of absence, I have found my way back to this grandmother who loves me.
This is becoming familiar, a pattern, this reconnection every few years. This time I vow to stay in touch better. She is all I have left from that before life, and she is always waiting for me to come back, my mother’s mother. We are connected not only through blood, but through terrible loss. In the before life she was my loving grandmother, providing stability and maturity where my young parents fell short. She gave me honey with my medicine, let me sleep at her house, took me on camping trips with my loving grandfather. I played in her yard, petted horses, sat on her countertop while she cooked for me in the kitchen.
All the while my parents’ fragile marriage was turning volatile. One day my father found out about my mother’s affair, and in a fit of rage he threw her out of our home and soon afterwards, out of my five-year-old life. My father says he thought the only way to protect me from being torn from him, and into my mother’s “ incapable hands”, was to erase her. So he encouraged her to go, to stay away, to leave us alone to piece our lives back together. Despite my grandmother’s pleas, my mother, a broken woman, did not fight for me but rather slipped away quietly.
In the midst of this tragedy, my beloved grandfather died of a heart attack. Through her own pain and loss, year after year, my grandmother sent me cards, letters, gifts. I didn’t receive any of these until years later, when I found them in a hidden drawer at my father’s house. She had tried to stay in touch, and I never knew it.
So here I am again, finally. She shows me pictures of trips she took with her other grandchildren, weddings, new babies, all the things I never got to share with her. I teeter on the edge of bitterness for my loss. I mention my grandfather’s death so many years ago, and instantly her eyes fill with tears. Today I see the past through her eyes, her daughter slipping away, her husband dying, her granddaughter gone. It is more than thirty years later and her grief is still raw.
When I am about to go, I tell her I will be back soon this time. I won’t let more years go by, I promise. She holds on to my hand tightly and tries to speak but she can’t. I know what she wants to say, a lifetime of words, but the void has swallowed them and all that is left in this moment is an understanding of love. I nod my head to tell her I know.