I received a phone call early this morning from my father: his mother Lidia Bula née Pardon, my beloved grandmother, had passed away at the age of 91.
This has been especially hard on my Father. Around 30 years ago, when I was just a toddler, he lost his father Andrzej to a surprise heart attack. At the time, my father’s immigration status in Canada was still under application, meaning he couldn’t leave the country without risking not being granted re-entry. With a wife and new daughter here in Canada with him, it was a risk he couldn’t take. He had to miss his father’s funeral and the chance to see his face one final time.
Now 30 years later he loses his mother, and circumstances again steal from him the opportunity to say good-bye. Mine too for that matter.
Babcia Lidia helped raise me. She would come from Poland to stay with us pretty often as I was growing up. I can still remember the sound of her voice as she sang me lullabies. I remember her teaching me how to sew, so that I could make my barbies cool outfits our of fabric scraps and old clothing.
She used to tell me about being a ballerina, and dancing the part of the wind-up ballerina doll in the Nutcracker. I remember the time she saw me drawing, and picked up a piece of paper and in what seemed like minutes managed to draw a woman in a big dress.
She had this quirk, of always taking the worst of what was available for herself to eat. “I ate two of the oranges in the fruit bowl, they were starting to go bad.” I remember the near desperation with which my parents would tell her that she doesn’t have to eat the rotten food and to just throw it out. After having lived in poverty myself, I understood a bit better: the need to make sure things get used rather than thrown out never knowing if you would be able to get more. Not to mention the fear of using up something someone was saving and so justifying it to yourself that it was about to go bad, again because in the back of your mind there is always the fear that if it’s gone, it might be irreplaceable.
Grandma didn’t speak English, but that didn’t stop her from making friends. My school bus driver would always stop and try to talk to her when she walked me to the stop each morning. Grandma made me feel loved. She would tell me about Grandpa and make me feel like he loved me too, it’s just that he didn’t live long enough to get to tell me himself.
Her health deteriorated enough to make travel risky, shortly before my sister was born. It wasn’t until 10 years ago that she finally got to meet her, when we managed a family trip to Poland. After that, her health seemed to take a further turn for the worse. Soon afterwards, she began requiring more consistent care and her memory started to deteriorate. When it turned out that despite the work put in by my other grandmother to help manage the situation, that the nurse and the priest were scamming her and that she required more consistent care.
My parents consider it a miracle, that after a crisis situation made it clear that she needed round the clock care, they were able to get her into a home run by nuns (I think nuns, sister could mean either nun or nurse come to think of it, but given the name and Poland, I think it might have been nuns.)
There’s a part of me that has been expecting this phone call for the last ten years. A feeling that after seeing my sister in person finally, that she was ready. A part of me felt a shiver of fear every time my dad called me early in the morning.
With everything going on, I feel the need to mention that as far as we know, it wasn’t related to Covid-19. She had apparently been unconscious most of the time for the last few days, and when she was conscious, she was showing confusion, after visibly deteriorating for some time
Today, I lost my grandmother. I won’t get to say goodbye. I don’t know when or if I will even be able to visit her grave. I’ve missed her already for a few years now, but now it feels so much more final. I feel strangely lost, unsure, not knowing how to process.
I felt like I had lost her years ago, when I feared she was being told disappointing things about me. I won’t ever get the chance to hold her hands, and show her that she didn’t have to worry about me. That I would be ok. The time and physical distance between us, not to mention between me and my parents right not, make this all strangely hard to process.
There is no one around me right now who has memories of their own of this woman who helped shape me. I can feel their sympathy, their caring, and I’m grateful for it, but I also feel strangely alone in my grief. I’ll never get the chance to introduce her to Cale, even just over the phone. I’ll never get the chance to cook for her like she used to cook for me. I’ll never again get to hear her voice.
I’m not religious anymore, and don’t seek comfort in some divine being, but I find myself reciting the prayer we say in Polish for the spirits of the departed. I say it, if only for that brief connection, linguistic and traditional, that it gives me to her.
Wieczny odpoczynek racz jej dać, Panie,
a światłość wiekuista niechaj jej świeci.
Niech odpoczywa w pokoju wiecznym.
Dobranoc Babciu. Kocham cié.