‘My grandma died today,’ she said in a complete shock. It was difficult to process this information because the day before I was at this friend’s flat celebrating her birthday. There was no indication that her grandma, who lived in my friend’s country of origin, was likely to die so soon. ‘Can you go for a walk with me?’
We took our usual route. Walking away from the manicured lawns of Cannon Hill Park in Birmingham, we headed for small woodland on the edge of the park. Once we got to the woods, we found a big trunk of a recently fallen tree and made ourselves comfortable. My friend produced several mandarins from her bag. Eating fresh juicy flesh of mandarins, she told me about her grandma. I’ve heard some of those stories, but I enjoyed her telling me them again. We were honouring her grandma’s life as well as we could. My favourite story was about her grandma telling my friend how beautiful she was, more beautiful than any other girl. My friend told me that she internalised her grandma’s voice and now that part of her took care of her needs. This inner voice reminded her to put an extra layer on when it was cold and to eat when it was a mealtime. I was comforted to know that one way or another her grandma lived on. She could not go to the funeral, because like me she was a student, and it was not possible to fly out to her home country straightaway. So, we sat in the woods that afternoon and celebrated her grandma’s life.
Every 14th of April, I remember that walk and send love and light to my friend’s grandma, because… it is my own grandma’s birthday. My grandma is 85 today. I am sad that I am not close enough to celebrate it with her. She has been a major influence on my life. She brought me up since I was two weeks old. I’m aware that like my friend, I have internalised my grandma’s voice. It’s not as loving though. I hear it when I beat myself up. My grandma never told me I was beautiful. She thought saying things like that could make me big-headed. Maybe it’s also because no one told her how beautiful she was. She lost her mum when she was 10, and her dad even before then. She had a tough life raising a big family, coming to terms with loosing some of her children, coping with physical and emotional abuse, and making the ends meet. To survive she had to be strong, tough and shut down.
And yet I know I am one of the greatest loves of her life. She loves me the best she knows how to.
I know there will come a day I’ll receive a phone call like my friend did seven years ago. Chances are I won’t be able to fly out straightaway. My family members here need a visa to enter Azerbaijan which will take us at least two weeks to sort out.
I dread that day with every fibre of my soul. Every time I visit her, I drink in her image committing it to my memory because I may never see her again. Every time I talk to her I remind myself to be patient with her, because I maybe hearing her voice for the last time. It doesn’t leave much scope for authenticity sometimes, but I don’t care. She is not going to change. Yes, she can be harsh, critical, even bitter, but despite her flaws, she is the person who has loved me the most. And up until I met my husband and birthed my children, she was the greatest love of my life too.
It may sound crasy, but I have re-lived the day I may loose her many-many times. I imagine I may go for a walk on that day in a park and tell someone how much she loved me; the very best way she knew how to love.
But not today. Today I’m celebrating my grandma’s 85th birthday. I’ll chat to her on Skype, go out with my family, and tell my husband some anecdotes about her love for me. The evidence of her love is not conventional, but it’s how she could express it and that’s all that matters today.
A very happy birthday grandma! Many happy returns.