I knew it would happen when I moved here. I did what I could to steel myself against the reality that at some point, tragedy would strike and I would be far, far away.
And yet, despite all my preparation, I still found myself collapsed in a heap, sobbing this morning after receiving news of the death of my grandmother. Her passing was merciful – she was immobile, in pain, ready to be reunited with my grandfather. But the sting is so much stronger when your first reaction is to hug a family member, and the nearest one is 6,000 miles away. When your father’s choked-up voice is cutting through a bad connection that’s stretching across an entire ocean. When you’re trying to call siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles and no one is picking up because it’s still work hours on a Friday in their time zone.
I was lucky that I had the chance to see my grandmother in July. I visited her a few times during my week on the East Coast. On the night before I flew back to Sydney, I stayed for a few hours, as she was more alert than my previous visits. We talked about a great many things as we watched the Trayvon Martin verdict. About love, the differences between my life at home and my new life in another country, about God and my interpretation of it. She told me how much she admired my courage and intelligence, urged me to write a novel, and as I said farewell so she could get some sleep, she made sure the last thing she said to me as I left the room was, “I love you so much.” I bawled my eyes out for 20 minutes in the parking lot of her nursing home after that night, because I think we both knew deep down that it was the last time we’d see each other.
My grandmother left behind a legacy – six children, 25 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren. She was a major part of our childhoods and adulthoods. An example of love, devotion, and forgiveness. She was sharp, and she was tough, and parts of her are now scattered in the 37 people she helped create, and dozens more she touched through her life.
When my grandfather passed away in my early teens, I didn’t fly from California to Philadelphia for the funeral. I was afraid of seeing my dad and uncles cry, of so many people that I loved hurting so much. I had an excuse (final exams), but it was really just that – an excuse. I’ve always regretted not making the trip and feeling the love of my family and supporting my dad in his loss. And now here I am half a world away, stuck in a similar predicament. I have an expensive and time-consuming decision to make – do I go, or do I stay? My grandmother is gone, this trip wouldn’t be for her. It would be for me and the 36 other people she’s left behind – to lean on each other, remember her, and comfort each other. Twenty-four hours of travel on either end and likely only a few days to spend with them. $2000 I didn’t quite fit in my budget for this month. Closure and comfort I just couldn’t get from here.
Whether I make it back to pay my respects or not, I am proud to be part of my big, messy family, filled with such an array of personalities. A family founded and guided by an amazing woman with an amazing soul.