When we miss a loved one who has passed away, sometimes the most healing thing we can do is to write them a letter. The month of May reminds me of Mother’s Day so I thought this would be a good time to write my beloved maternal grandmother, Regina.
On Labor Day weekend in 1964 my grandmother committed suicide in my childhood home. I was ten years old. Losing her left an indelible mark on me because she was my primary caretaker when my parents went to work. We never really heal from the loss of loved ones, we just come to terms that they are gone.
In many ways, Regina set the platform for my life as a writer by teaching me how to type on her Remington typewriter which sat perched on the vanity in her bedroom. Even though she will never physically receive my letters, I believe her spirit is very much alive and she hears my words.
Here is a draft of my one of my letters to my grandmother, whose suicide was a result of an over-dose of sleeping pills at the age of sixty-one.
Dear Grandma ~
I cannot believe that so much time has elapsed since your passing. I clearly remember the day I walked into your bedroom beside mine to ask permission to go swimming in Cindy’s pool. I recall my terror when you did not respond. I remember running across the house to phone my parents at work on the only phone we had. I still hear the echoes of the fire trucks and see the image of the Graham Greene novel sprawled out on your chest and my mother whispering in my ear, “Grandma will never be back,” before she scurried to the back of the ambulance to ride with you to the hospital.
Now at the age of sixty-five, I can say I am the accomplished writer I always wanted to be. It’s important that you know that each time I pound letters on my keyboard, I think of your Remington typewriter perched on the vanity beside your bed, and how you taught me to type each day after school. I also remember your words, “You will be a fine writer one day.”
Hearing your voice lifts me up and inspires me and for this I thank you. There were times when I was angry that you took your life so early, but I suppose after your traumatic childhood you felt you had enough. Mother never told me of your suicide until I was much older.
About thirty-five years ago, when my parents moved from my childhood home, they found your typewritten journal in your closet, in the room next to mine. It was a treasure like none I had ever received. I think you would be happy to know that I have turned your journal about being orphaned and surviving the turmoil of World War I into a book called, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal. It has received stellar reviews and my friends and writing colleagues tell me you would have been proud. Honoring you and your life has meant so much to me, particularly since you told me how one day I would be a writer.
I also thought you’d want to know that we named our middle daughter after you so that you are forever present in our lives. Your personalities are a little different, she’s more timid and I remember you as more outgoing, but physically much of you is alive in her, particularly your blond hair, kindness, and love for fashion.
Indeed, you were so incredibly beautiful—your radiant smile, the space between your two front teeth and your vivacious personality. I remember the thickness of your blond hair, your beautiful figure and your youthfulness which my friends remarked on when you walked me to school each day. Only a few years ago mom confessed that I reminded her of you and for me this was one of the best compliments she ever paid me.
After graduating from high school, I studied nursing and journalism. When I was seventeen Mom and Dad went on a vacation and met a Canadian couple with whom they became good friends. The following summer they invited me to work at their nursery in Canada.
I worked, fell in love with their son and within two weeks we went to the Yukon Territory for a holiday. They said it wasn’t a set up, but five years later we were married and now after thirty-five years we are still together. You’d adore Simon. He is everything a woman could want in a man and more. We have three terrific kids—Rachel Miriam, 35, Regine, 33, and Joshua Samuel, 30, grandpa’s namesake. We have four grandchildren, Jaxson, Lilly, Lila and Nico, and Lila. They all bring us a lot of joy.
I was on bed rest for each one of my pregnancies. Like you, I had a passion for writing, so my husband, Simon built me a special table that sat over my bed to hold my typewriter where I chronicled my pregnancy which ended up as a published book to help other women going through the same experience.
For me, finding your journal has been life-changing and has helped put my life into perspective. Grandma, your misery was heart-wrenching. You were a strong, loving and ambitious woman during a time when women weren’t respected and war hampered your aspirations of becoming a physician. I cannot fathom losing both my parents to cholera at the age of eleven and being left alone with my eight-year old sister, being rejected by other family members and living in an orphanage.
My small day-to-day problems seem insignificant compared to what you endured. I want to hug you so badly and tell you that I love you and cherish you. Since that day will never come, I will continue to do the next best thing, and that is to honor you with my words through letters.
I love you forever,