My grandmother passed away last Tuesday. She had cancer and had been sick for quite awhile. Recently, though, she had taken a turn for the worse. She was bed ridden and wasting away. Upon learning the news of her death my breathe caught in my throat and for a split second I felt relief in knowing that the pains of this world no longer had any effect on her. The thought of her leaving her cumbersome and ailing earthly body behind while her soul journeyed onward to that place of love and light and knowledge my uncle visited and speaks of so vividly made me smile; but those thoughts were fleeting and my natural human inclination towards selfishness kicked in and I wished her back for a few more moments – I wished her back no matter the cost in pain.
For me, the wish revolved around my one desire to hold a concrete memory in my hand. I just wanted to take a picture with her. We don’t have any. Not one. There is no photographic evidence of her holding me the first time we met, although I am sure the moment exists somewhere in time. There is no photo of her serving me lunch the one time I visited her at her home in North Carolina, although I remember the moment vividly and can still taste the grilled cheese she made me on fresh homemade bread. There is no photo of us laughing together with my family over dinner one of the many times she stopped to say hello before continuing on her way up north for the summer, even though my family and I still reminisce and laugh about the conversations had over the those tables.
You might be wondering how in this day in age I do not have one photo of my grandmother and I together. We live in a world where technology reigns and often times we experience it through the four inch screen of our cell phones; snapping away at just about anything. My sister said something to me last week that struck me as profoundly sad. Whilst traveling in Rome recently she stopped at the Vatican. As she stood there marveling at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel she noticed those around her were more interested in taking pictures of the ceiling (despite the Vatican’s adamant rules that you do not.) With iPhones and iPads in hand they snapped away photo after photo to remember the occasion. They did this while barely stopping to marvel at the ceiling with their own two eyes rather than through the eye of their camera.
Over time we have allowed technology to take over and we, as a society, have decided the best and only way to remember a moment is to capture it and print it out on special paper in inks of many colors; and the only way to ensure the perfect shot is to spend the time chasing the opportunity for one. It seems as if we feel we must prove our happiness with photos. As if only a moment captured is a moment worth remembering; it’s almost as if something un-captured exists on a lesser scale of importance.
And, that is exactly how I was feeling in those first few moments when I’d wished her back. I was feeling as if there had not been one special moment between the two of us. How could there have been when no one ever saw fit to capture it on film? But as the days after her death slowly and quietly (not many of those I assumed myself close to offered up any sort of condolences) passed by I came to realize something important.. something to sustain me though my indescribable feelings of confusion at the lack of a photo. I realized that my memories and feelings towards my Gram are just as tangible and concrete as any “memory” printed on paper. To the contrary, one can be destroyed whilst the other will always exist in my mind and somewhere else in a precise moment of time.
Although I cannot hold in my hand one definitive memory in the form of a photo it isn’t as telling as one might originally think. We lived far apart and opportunities for photo-ops were sparse. But my grandmother always made sure I knew she was thinking of me – my birthday and the holidays never passed without a card arriving in the mail. And on one special birthday around the age of ten I received a present that helped sustain me through much travail – a quilt. Immaculately made with fabrics of many textures, colors, and patterns it has kept me warm during many stormy periods of my life. Although my grandmother was far away and wasn’t able to take an albums worth of photos with me she still made sure that she was there, in some form, every night, gently cradling me to sleep.
After her death I had my mother pull it out for me (it’s been in storage since I gave up my twin bed a while back). Encasing myself within the fabric of this quilt stitched with so much love I envisioned my grandmother liberated from pain and floating free in that marvelous place my uncle speaks of and I realized something so archaic as a handmade quilt is worth so much more to me than the technologies of today and any faded photograph could ever be.