Grandma and Me

Blame it on excessive free time, but I've been spending a lot of time freelancing. Writing has always been a hobby of mine and since childhood I've dreamt of becoming a famous novelist. In elementary school, I wrote a novella in pencil and on wide-ruled notebook paper. With my head stuck in the clouds, I started a countless number of stories about dragons, magic, wizards, princesses---and with illustrations to boot.

Now at age 23 and in the working world, I still find myself thinking of characters and plot lines rather than focusing on my daily assignments. Lately, I have strayed into the realm of non-fiction, writing personal essays rather than short stories and novels. For the past month, I have worked on an essay about my maternal grandmother who has suffered from Alzheimer's disease for the past five years.

Last night I called my mama to ask her a few questions about my grandmother's early life in China and Taiwan. The details of my grandmother's life has always been hazy to me. I knew her first husband passed away when she was young and left her a widow with three young children. But I have never seen a picture of him---I never even knew his name.

Over the phone, my mom told me briefly that grandma's first husband was a pilot in the navy and had died in a plane crash. Grandma was 28 at the time and my Aunt Ann was only three months old.

I tinkered with the essay until 3 in the morning, deleting certain phrases and sentences, rewriting paragraphs, moving paragraphs around. I think it's almost done, just a few more edits to go. And although it felt wonderful to be oh-so-close to finishing this essay, my heart felt sad and heavy with thoughts of my grandma.

In my mind, I saw her standing there at age 28, her hair dark and her face smooth and unlined. Perhaps a military officer broke the news to her or perhaps she found out about her husband's death in a telegram. Did she weep as she read the words? Or did she sigh and take a deep breath, gathering her two young children to her side and holding her baby to her chest?

And I thought especially of this man without a name---the love of my grandmother's life, a pilot with three young children. Was he afraid when his plane careened towards the ground? Did he think of his wife and kids? And would he ever realize that his death eventually gave me life? If he hadn't died that fateful day, my grandmother would never have married my grandfather and my mother never would have been born. What would have happened to me, my brother, and my sister? And what would happen to all of our future children and grandchildren?

This entire ordeal made me ponder about life in general and the intricate twists and turns that arise from our daily comings and goings. It made me think about death and loss and grief. But it also made me realize the deep ironies of this topsy-turvy world---how the death of one man has led to the birth of many others, how my grandmother's grief ultimately led to my existence.

As I went to bed that night, I thought once more of my 28 year-old grandmother and how she looked out to sea when she heard the awful news. I wish I could have been there to wrap my arms around her, to tell her everything would be all right.

"This is the way it needs to be, grandma," I would say. And perhaps I would whisper in her ear the names of her future daughters and grandchildren who would be borne from this loss.

But I fear such words would give her no comfort. At times, the life of one means so much more than the life of many.