Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Reflecting on Place and Family

Working abroad has its trade-offs.  Living halfway around the world from family can be difficult especially at a time of loss. During the short break over Christmas and New Year's, I was able to visit my grandma for the last time.  Sitting beside her for over an hour, I knew it to be my last.  She had been frail for several months.  Her eyes were closed shut due to cataracts and failing vision.  I had to speak loudly into her hearing aids just to say 'hello'.  After arriving back in the Philippines and within a week of my visit, grandma was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia.  We all knew she wouldn't live much longer.

How to begin and close a casual conversation during a brief, holiday visit, knowing that those may be the last words exchanged between grandmother and granddaughter?  How to end a conversation about the weather and other mundane updates, when a rolodex of unexpressed feelings conjure up inside?  How do you say, 'see you later' or 'good-bye grandma'?

I decided not to say much at all.  I chose not to fill the air with words that she can't hear anyway. I decided not to entertain her with daily updates.  Instead, I sat beside her, hugged her, and allowed my tears to well-up in her arms.  I let her fill me with unconditional love and support she offers without judgement, strain, or reservation.  I received the gifts from my grandmother as she embraced her granddaughter.

Reflecting on the gifts she has shared to me in my life; Grandma Koosie gave love without reservation, never expecting anything in return.  I drove her home one time after a doctor's visit for her failing eyes. We stopped for lunch at the A&W before taking the back roads to her house in Glenwood.  Grandma liked getting off the interstate and driving through Wisconsin's farmland.  Sitting in the passenger seat and riding along through rolling pastures was where she could share stories about the places and people she knew on those familiar roads.  Grandma was a car talker.  We sat in the A&W parking lot for nearly twenty minutes before heading into have lunch.  As I was about to pay the cashier for our grilled cheese sandwiches, grandma motioned me to put my money away and insisted on paying.  I could see that it was important to her that she was taking care of me, by paying for my lunch.  Humbled by this, it was her lesson that grandparents should take care of their grandchildren,  just as parents should take care of their children - not the other way around.

During my last visit in the nursing home, I made a comment about how often my father visited her.  My dad has generously taken care of his mother over many years. I expected to hear grandma's response of gratitude for my dad's responsible and caring nature.  But to my surprise, her response was, 'He's so busy, isn't he?'  Grandma had a matter-of-fact way of switching the perspective in conversation to highlight simple, yet important matters in life.

Last week, Grandma Koosie died mid-morning on January 23, on my father's 70th birthday.  She was 92 years old.  I am grateful to have sat beside her and chat about life in the Philippines.  But more importantly, I am grateful that I could be with her and to hear her say that she loves me.  I am grateful to know that she passed away peacefully on my dad's birthday.  This is her gift to my dad, and to all of us; we can stop being so 'busy' and reflect on what matters.  My grandma lived a long life.  A mother of eight in the small town of Glenwood City, Wisconsin and blessed with many grandchildren.  None of us were overlooked, as we were all equally loved by her in varying and personalized ways.

It is uncanny that in the same week of grandma's passing, reflecting on her life and all the thoughts surrounding one's 'meaning and purpose' in life and death, I was able to find closure by attending a funeral in my neighborhood, for a woman who died in childbirth, in the Philippines.  It is never easy to lose a loved one, nor is it easy to live so far away during these important life events.  But I was able to connect with the collective feelings shared by others in time of loss, and listen to uplifting messages while attending a funeral on the opposite side of the globe.  I think of grandma now, dancing barefoot and whistling in heaven.  Congratulations Grandma! - on living a long life and touching countless lives of loved ones who share in many, remarkable memories of you!

1 comment:

  1. This is a beautiful sharing, Anna, and I am glad you got to process your loss with others and on this blog.
    Thanks and love,