On the letters I wrote to my grandmother
I can’t really remember what gave me the idea to started writing the letters to my grandmother. All I know is that once I started I wasn’t able to stop. It was a small gesture that suddenly turned into something much much larger. It all started when I was 19 years old and my grandmother, LeMae, was diagnosed with bladder cancer. I wasn’t initially worried for her because I was too young to understand the weight of what that diagnosis meant.
I decided that I would write my grandmother one handwritten letter a week in order to make her smile, and to light up her life for a moment during an increasingly difficult time. These letters were filled with pages of information that seemed tedious and empty but I stuck to my goal of writing at least one letter a week. I could always find something to fill them up with, even if it were a silly story about going out with friends, or describing a book I just read, or a venting about a fight.
At the time, I didn’t think about the impact that those letters would have on my grandmother, on my mother, or on me. My grandmother lived for another four momentous years, and I am grateful for every day because it taught me so much about the person I was and the grown up woman that I wanted to be. I wrote over 200 letters in that time period. I had written so many letters and cards that it had gotten to the point where I couldn’t find blank cards at Target, Hallmark, or the bookstore I worked at that I hadn’t already used.
When my grandmother eventually lost her fight with cancer, my letters were returned to me and I got a wonderful and unique opportunity to relive so many forgotten moments. As I read the stack of letters I was embarrassed, I laughed, I felt nostalgic, and I cried. When I got those letters back they were a connection to what I had lost. I read every letter like a starving man devours food. Those letters inspired me to be the best version of myself, the version that I would want my grandmother to read in my letters.
There are moments in life where I question my choices, doubt what I’m doing, and worry that I’m not the best person that I could be. Then I think back to those letters. I think about who my grandmother was, and how satisfied she was with her life and the choices that she made. I think about all the moments I spent sitting at her kitchen table with a cup of coffee hearing her talk about life, old friends, and family. I think about how much I miss her, and how much I hope that the fire that inspired her and pushed her throughout her life is a part of me somehow, and that I inherited such strength from her and my mother.
It became apparent that these letters were a record of my young life. I was lucky that they were mostly in order so I was able to see my own growth as I transitioned from girl to woman. The most important lesson I learned from these is that regardless of my ridiculousness, my grandmother knew I was in a growing period and never once judged me based on my 19-year=old silliness. Even when I wrote things that were full of cattiness I could see from the creases and wear that the cards and letters were well read and well-loved.
As I grew older my letters started to get more complicated. I was dealing with more grown-up issues and I shared all of it blindly and fully. I trusted my grandmothers love implicitly, and told her things in the letters I would have been afraid to say to her face. The letters became my cathartic release in times of stress, heartache and joy. I knew if I didn’t want to include something in the letters that it wasn’t something worth doing again. During those big life altering moments, those letters were a lifeline to the person who judged me the harshest and celebrated with me the biggest. When my grandmother didn’t approve of a choice I made she always made sure I knew. She had a directness that very few people mastered in their lifetime that got her point across without being perceived as rude.
The letters changed my relationship with my mother too. I think the moment I decided to do that was the moment she started to look at me a little differently. I remember the look on my mothers face when she gave me the bag containing my letters, it isn’t something I can safely put to words, but it was something I’ll never forget.
I know now that I wasn’t writing them just so my grandmother would have something to read or so my mother would be proud of me. I wrote them to calm the anxiety in my heart, body and brain. I think that she knew that too—I think she knew that I needed the letters more than she did. My grandmother understood me when I was still trying to understand myself. I’ll always be grateful for it.
Lauren Kyes has a bachelors degree in English Literature from the University of Minnesota. She loves giving her two giant dogs voices in order to make her husband laugh. When she is not writing, she enjoys doing home renovations, hitting up flea markets, and doing crafty things with her mother.
[Image via iStock]