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February 16, 2015

Storytelling, Without Paper

Just over a week ago, my sweet, beautiful grandmother passed away. She was ninety-eight years old and had been in hospice for about three months. Her passing was peaceful, but of course it still hurts to know she is gone from this world.


For most of the time she was in hospice, she was in very good shape mentally. I’d bring my two young kids to visit and they’d talk and she’d laugh at the way they would climb on her bed and play with her Christmas decorations and look at her pictures (mostly the ones of themselves). Sitting next to my mom, beside my grandmother, with my kids at our feet is something I will always treasure; it’s a gift one can’t count on having, and I am grateful I experienced it.


The other beautiful thing about the last few months with my grandmother was how much of the time she spent telling me stories. Sometimes, they were updates on my cousin or something that had happened to her recently. But the best ones were the ones from her childhood.


One day, we were talking about how she didn’t like chocolate ice cream (perhaps the only moment in time I questioned our being related). She told me how, as a child, she preferred to buy a bag of candy for a penny from the corner store. She’d go down with her friend, Margie, I think, and they’d squeeze the bags to find the biggest one, until the shopkeeper told them to pick one and move along. The candy, she told me, was the leftover bits, probably some of them were from the floor, but she loved it.


I’d never heard this story before, but when she finished telling it (and laughing; she always laughed at her own stories), she said, “Why do I remember that?”


“I don’t know,” I told her, but I was so glad she did. To have a glimpse of my grandma as a girl, to imagine her life almost a hundred years ago, to experience a moment of her life with her in memory—this is the power of story.


The things my grandma held on to, the things she treasured, were stories. Stories of her family and friends, stories she shared so freely with anyone who would sit and stay a while with her. There was joy and love and humor in her stories. There was family I never knew, but have at least an image of in my mind now. My grandma told stories with her heart and she laughed with her soul. I am grateful to have witnessed and shared in that part of her legacy, and it is something I will continue to hold very dear.


May she rest in peace.

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