My grandmother was a great woman. She was strong, caring and joyful, with an infectious energy that served as a beacon of inspiration for her peers, and a sense of humor that elicited boisterous laughter from those lucky enough to find themselves in her company at any given moment. She was passionate and forceful, but also compassionate, gregarious and kind. She had a heart that was filled with music and love. She knew the importance of song, of dance, of laughter. She cared, and deeply so.
For the last few years, in my visits back home, I’d witnessed a steady decline in my grandmother’s health and overall wellbeing. Her disposition, once sunny and affable, had dulled into a muted grey from the side-effects of medication and sheer exhaustion. Unscheduled visits to the hospital became a regular occurrence. Sudden and continued health scares led to live-in nurses. Daily blood work. Assisted living. Life became a daily struggle to stay alive, and soon that flame which shone so brightly inside her dimmed into a glimmer. Every once in a while, however, given the right combination of circumstances, like an old in-joke or a funny memory, that flame would materialize itself again in the form of a mischievous smile decorating her weathered visage.
I was extremely lucky to have been born into an environment where humor is such an integral part of our daily lives; where ridiculousness is not shushed or stamped out, but celebrated and encouraged. From both sides of the family, I was surrounded by people who knew how to have a laugh: at the world, at each other, at themselves. My grandmother knew the power of a well-timed zinger, and losing it over a ridiculous pun, and falling over in side-splitting hysterics. She instilled that sense of irreverence and jocosity in all her children, often to the chagrin of her husband.
My grandparents were married for 56 years. Any half-baked cynical bullshit I can come up with about the fleeting nature of human relationships and how marriage is an unnatural societal construct which keeps us from realizing our full potential starts sounding like the embittered braying of a snot-nosed punk when I think about all these two went through together. They were each other’s rock, and for over half a century they kept each other moored and at peace. During her last days, when the stress of constant health scares left her exhausted and weak, they’d take comfort in each other’s mere presence, communicating in absolute silence what a million poems could never say.
A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of one of my extended visits, my Dad woke me up and told me my grandmother had just passed away. He was weeping. I hugged him as hard as I could. He’d just lost his mom. I knew that the pain I felt from losing my grandmother couldn’t begin to compare to the staggering heartbreak he was grappling with, having lost his mother. The next few days were a blur of old familiar faces offering their sincere condolences. Words of remembrance and sorrow. A building cacophony of hundreds of different voices offering variations on a single idea: I’m sorry for your loss.
I don’t know much about grief. On a surface level, it seems counter-productive and, honestly, a little silly. But living through my grandmother’s funeral, seeing the amount of people who cared about her enough to make the trek to the outskirts of the city and pay their last respects, was kind of a profound experience. It got me thinking about the ripple effect in motion, and how our actions, however seemingly innocuous, extend way past what we perceive to be our scope of influence. How we can and do transform others’ lives in a million profound ways, and the power that we have to be a force for change in the world. This funeral– this hokey, seemingly archaic and wholly depressing ritual– is, in itself, life-affirming. The deceased reach the end of their earthly voyage, and the people that they marked in one way or another congregate to see them off. In this sense, the use of the word “loss” when referring to the dead starts feeling inadequate, as they remain with us regardless of physical presence.
I think there’s something beautiful about that. Solemnly ceremonial.
However troubled my grandmother’s final days were, the many upheavals she soldiered through, her mark on the world is one of kindness, passion and joy. Of an unabashed love for song, and humor, and Lebanese cooking. Everything she instilled in us will continue on for generations. She taught me more than I was ever able to express to her. I loved her, and I will miss her. But I’m carrying her right here with me, and I’m not letting go any time soon.