To My Nonna, 2 Years Gone
January 27, 2019
I do not know your favorite color, so I’ve chosen to write in red, as it is fierce and strong, like you. I too, Nonna, am fierce and strong, though I’m not sure you truly saw this, as there was a wall between us during your time on Earth.
However, now that you’ve passed from the physical world to the spiritual, I trust that you can see me clearly, and I, in turn, see you.
I hated you when you were alive–I say this to be honest–but that hatred merely reflected just how strong our barrier was.
I felt that barrier when you were sick.
I felt it when you died.
I felt it at your funeral, where I was unable to cry.
I could not grieve then, because I was mad. I was hurt, I was angry, I was resentful.
I resented that I could not tell you about my eating disorder, that you had no clue I was in treatment.
I resented that I could never express myself to you in its entirety.
But beneath that resentment was a world of pain.
Pain, over all we had in common.
Pain, over all we did not share.
I remember taking to the podium at your funeral and saying, “I’m so honored just to share her blood,” not a trace of emotion in my words. I felt disgusted with myself, like an utter fraud.
I forgive myself, though, now aware that I was truly doing my best. My vain attempt at a eulogy was a desperate search for connection. However, as you and I both know, life follows divine time, and the universe did not plan for the two of us to connect then.
Since we now exist in separate realms, we can connect far more deeply than we ever could on Earth, even if we’d both been completely healthy. The fact is, our external circumstances, such as the times we grew up in, fueled our barrier’s fire.
When I began to feel your absence, more than a year after your funeral, I felt grief for the lost relationship. Today, however, I feel joy, for our relationship has just been found.
It is January 27, 2019, exactly 2 years since your passing. I visited your gravesite exactly one week ago for the first time since your burial.
That date, January 20th, holds significance, too; you’ll understand why shortly.
Let me tell you, Nonna, how connected our paths are. You, me, and Papa all got sick at the same time–you with dementia, me with anorexia, and Papa with prostate cancer–in the fall of 2015.
Between fall of 2015 and fall of 2016, we all struggled in our homes: me in New Orleans, you two in Lafayette. Meanwhile, my mother made the 3-hour trip back and forth to alternate taking care of us.
Throughout this time, I debated whether or not to enter residential treatment. I ultimately did so, though not at my sickest, a fact I always found odd. Now, though, I understand why.
In the midst of the “higher care” discussion about me, a similar debate took place about you. You and Papa were both very sick but wanted (Papa particularly) to die in your own home.
I was tethered to that to that want.
It was after Papa passed in September 2016 that I decided to go into treatment, which I did one month later, on October 20th.
My departure aligned with his; it’s as if he were guiding me there.
Somehow he knew it was important for me to be present with my family for his death.
While we never mentioned the eating disorder out loud in your house, it is my understanding that Papa knew and was worried. I understand that he expressed this worry to my mom.
He wanted to die in the hour of the death of his beloved saint, Padre Pio, and he did so, on September 23. At that time, he surrendered, which gave me permission to go.
Now, Nonna, I’ll explain the significance of the January dates I mentioned above:
The discharge date chosen by my inpatient team was January 20th, 2017, but when December rolled around, I started fighting to come home. I don’t know what came over me, but suddenly I had to leave.
I persuaded my parents to tell the directors we could no longer pay for the program, a lie that they saw right through, accusing me of “working behind the scenes.”
They even offered to contact the business office about giving us a discount. They strongly felt I was not ready.
But I got my way and transitioned home on December 30th, after signing a contract confirming my understanding that the “Client is discharging against medical advice.”
I knew leaving early meant that if I wanted to return, I likely would not be readmitted, and as it happened, there were several times when I wanted to go finish what I’d started. Even now, I crave closure with my inpatient team. However: I’m coming to understand that I needed to leave when I did.
Because on January 20th, the day I was meant to discharge, you entered the hospital yourself. And, one week later, you passed away.
If I had finished my program, I would have missed your death. More importantly, my mother would have missed your death, and so would your youngest daughter, my aunt. My treatment center was moments from her home in Florida, and my mom and I were due to stay with her in my final weeks as I “stepped down.”
No; we had to come back.
You needed us to come back.
My experience at your funeral may have been blocked, but it planted the seed for what is happening now. It planted the seed for this letter.
I don’t hate you anymore.
On the contrary, I love you.
And I forgive us both for our past.
I visited Melville last weekend, Nonna.
I visited your childhood home.
I saw the levee and the train tracks that you wrote about in your journals.
Yes, your journals: I read them all.
You know, you are the reason that I journal as I do.
You told me once, “Papa will ask me, ‘what’s the name of that restaurant we ate at in Paris?’ and I’ll say, ‘here’s the name, what you ordered, and the street address.'”
That anecdote planted a seed of its own.
(Though I must give credit to my other grandmother, who always encouraged me to journal, as well.)
That said, I was surprised by how little there was in your journals. I’d assumed you’d recorded every detail. I guess I took your words literally, as I tend to do in life.
But quality beats quality.
When you developed dementia, I could hardly stomach the irony. You, who wrote to remember, wound up remembering nothing. I thought of suggesting you read the journals, but that would have done no good.
I realize now, having read them, that you wrote them for us.
“Perhaps a child of mine will read these one day,” you said, “and they will be a source of comfort.”
I was overwhelmed, Nonna, deeply, by what I read in your journals, by the similarities between you and me.
You said you wanted us to tell your story: did you know telling stories is my purpose in life?
We differ in our external circumstances and in our concepts of right and wrong, but our relationships to our faiths and our journeys with our bodies are remarkably similar.
The only difference, Nonna, is that I’m recovering, and you did not.
You died very sick, Nonna, your wounds all unhealed, but it was not in vain.
At your core, you were a teacher–I know this from your own words–and I have learned a lesson from your pain.
I see the pain you died with and do not choose it for myself.
I am affirmed in my mission of health and recovery.
I know that if I have a grandchild, I want to connect with them on earth.
I am learning from your mistakes.
What makes me saddest, Nonna, and where the root of our disconnect lies, is that where I am open, you were closed.
I always resented your secrecy. What you saw as privacy, I saw as isolation, and I believe that’s what kept you from healing.
You say in your journals that what you write here can’t be shared, but you also say your mission is to spread love and bring people to God. Secrecy prevents the spread of love.
“We are only as sick as our secrets.”
(That’s a quote I’ve picked up in recovery.)
I see in your writing how much you wanted to share your story–and yet you never told it! It’s a shame, to me, that it had to wait until after your physical lifetime.
But perhaps that’s what you were here for.
Perhaps that’s what you wanted.
Or, at the very least, perhaps it’s what your higher power wanted.
Maybe you had to lead a closed life to reveal the value of an open one.
You’ve certainly revealed that value to me.
Nonna, I am out of words now, but I trust that I’ve voiced my message. Know that every word you see here has been written with love.
I’m so grateful that after almost 20 years, we are finally able to connect.
I am grateful that for the first time since your death, I feel you watching from above.
I am grateful for your presence in my life, and I sense that it was there all along.
All my love,