A letter to the grandmother I lost to breast cancer, who I never had the chance to meet
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here, a contributor writes a letter to her late grandmother. She says, “When I was in high school, I religiously wore my pink ribbon every school day in October. Breast cancer awareness has always been important to me — not only because I feel it is my duty as a woman, but because of my family history. I lost my maternal grandmother to breast cancer. She passed away far too young, and I never had the opportunity to meet her. Her spirit long lives in my mother’s family, and I must thank her for that.”
You didn’t speak English. Like, at all. And here I am making an homage to you in my second language. I must admit that writing this letter makes me nervous. How do I write about someone I’ve never met?
Before I started, I asked our family to tell me stories about you. Your children and grandchildren all immediately, unanimously describe you, simply, as love. How do I encompass all that you were?
Determined, passionate, fearless, patient, kind-hearted, loving. These are more of the words our family uses to describe you. ¨Your grandmother was a force to be reckoned with,” my dad adds.
My mother and father were both eager to talk about you, their laughter rounded by nostalgic stories and cherished memories. During breakfast one morning, I asked my mom to share her favorite story about you.
Her eyes welled up, and so are mine while writing these lines.
She told me all about your feminist adventures, how you left your home during a patriarchal era when a woman’s independence was highly frowned upon, all to pursue your dream of becoming a teacher. Not only did you excel, but you became a founding member of an important network for teachers in Panama.
A feminist and a passionate teacher? No wonder I’m your nieta!
I’ve always found great joy in teaching. Ever since my college days, I was the “teacher” of my friend group. Since then, I’ve made it my mission to use my voice to bring knowledge to others, working as both a psychologist and a teacher. I can’t imagine ever separating those roles. My dad always jokes that he has never met anyone who loves their job as much as I do. I understand now that teaching runs through my veins, and I’m not the only Rovetto who has been blessed with the talent.
All three of your kids — my mom, Mary, Aunt Blanquita, and Uncle Pedro — have all found a way to share knowledge with others. In fact, many of your grandchildren have found a way, too. You see, Abuelita, you have grandchildren besides me who teach — whether it’s music, dance, veterinary medicine, psychology, or any other subject for which we are passionate. If there’s one thing you can say about the Rovetto cousins, it’s that we pour our heart and soul into everything we do.
While I never met you directly, I’d like to think that I met you through your sisters, Lola and Clara. They were the closest things to a grandmother that I ever had, and for that, I’m deeply grateful. If you were even half as compassionate, kind, and caring as they are — well, those loving words from our family don’t do your amazing heart justice.
How I wish I could’ve spoken with you about everything I am now learning! I knew that I came from a family of educators, but I had no idea you were so fearless and daring.
It makes me wonder: What other marvelous things about you did I never have the chance to discover?
As my Aunt Blanquita puts it, “An essay just doesn’t cover it.”
I remember once reading that a woman’s bond with her maternal grandmother is like no other.
There is an unparalleled womb-to-womb connection. As I grow older, I’ve developed a one of a kind relationship with my own mother, and being naturally curious, I often ask her, “What was your mother like? What would she have said in this situation? How did she express love?”
“Your grandmother showed her love through her actions,” my mom — your daughter — will respond. Interesting enough, that’s exactly how I would describe my mother’s love, too.
I think that’s my biggest thank you of all. Thank you for my mom.
You would be so proud of the amazing person she is today.
I can’t write about you without writing about Tata, your husband. Together, you were a team, through thick and thin. I know this because I watch my mom, my aunt, and my uncle, and they are the same way. They are teammates with their partners. That’s the biggest legacy you’ve left: family love. We might not always get to see each other, but when we do, the love is palpable.
Wherever you are, know that I think about you constantly. I hope that, somehow, I am sharing this letter with you. I love you, even though I haven’t met you. There isn’t an October that goes by without me thinking about you, without me thinking of all you’ve done for us. Gracias, Abuelita. Te amo.