Ten years ago, on October 10th, I would prepare to visit someone beloved, my grandmother, Niculina. Just writing her name today, nine years after she has passed, fills my heart with a mixture of longing and love. Ten years ago today, I am sure I bought flowers, for she adored them, I went by to see her and shared savarine with her – a cake she always loved.
Mamaie would be waiting at the window for me to arrive – only she knows how long she waited there before I appeared in the distance, approaching slowly, close enough to observe her and start waiving. She would welcome me in her humble, small apartment like a queen had arrived: fresh towels in the bathroom, a set up table just for me – she would often simply sit next to me and watch me eat. Need I say that I have never tasted food like hers since? She always listened and did so through a filter of immense care for me. To the point of telling me kids are a handful and I should not fight so hard to have one – while listening to my stories about fertility treatments.
Grandma taught me the value of silence when you actually know what to say and want to say something but the moment isn’t ripe. She was humble and firm at the same time, unmovable in some aspects, and lived her entire life in service of others.
Mamaie Niculina passed away as quietly and humbly as she lived her life. In the last days of her life she was helpless and my mom and I took turns in taking care of her (ok, more mom than me but I helped 🙂 ). She probably asked my mom the same thing she asked me – to let her go. My very last words from my grandma, as I was caring for her on my “shift” were “what are you doing here? go about your life!” Grandma waited for mom to fall asleep next to her to pass and then … much like in her life, she worked a quiet miracle with me that changed my life.
When I walked into my parents house the morning of her passing, not knowing that she is gone, looking at my mom, I guessed it. It had happened the night before. I started to feel something in me. Of course, it was grief but it was also something like a freeing. In Romania, a mostly orthodox country, we hold vigil for our dead in the church chapel and for two days my mom and I were, almost at all times, the only ones sitting with grandma, reminiscing, even laughing at times. It was cold and drizzly but the freeing kept nudging at my heart. On the day of her burial, the priests came to deliver the service and that is usually the time when family comes so, the chapel was filled. I was standing right next to grandma’s coffin when the priests invited us to “get close and bid our last goodbyes” and that is when I felt it happen – the breaking of the shell. The pain was so great that at first I thought I was going to faint. But I didn’t. I held on and felt the breaking. I looked around … I could not recognise many of the people I thought were my family – my brothers, my then husband, my father, my parents in law. I saw one person only – my current partner. She was there, right in front of me, feeling my pain almost entirely and noticing the crack and the light coming in. The next day, a 10 year friendship turned into the love story that propelled my life to fulfilment, the much craved peace and hights I never even dared to dream about.
I am not sure that my grandma would understand my lifestyle today but what I know without a single ounce of doubt is that, as soon as her spirit left her earthly body and she was able to work wonders from a different dimension, what went with her and drove her very first actions was her constant wish for me to be happy. And I hope she can feel the fact that on the day we put her to rest, I started to live.
Kahlil Gibran – 1883-1931
And a woman spoke, saying, Tell us of Pain. And he said: Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain. And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields. And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief. Much of your pain is self-chosen. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self. Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility: For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen, And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.
From The Prophet (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain.