Whenever I walked through my grandfather’s front door, I saw an 8 x 10 photograph of my deceased grandmother sitting on a glass coffee table. I often studied this picture without letting anyone catch me.
I examined my grandmother’s chocolately, smooth complexion, her pastel blue dress, and her pressed, dark hair with soft curls around her face.
“Am I short because of you?” “Is my voice high like yours?” “Do we walk the same way? I have a million questions for her that I’d never get to ask. She’s my only grandparent that I never met. She is my missing link.
My grandmother, Minnie, died from cancer about about a year-and-a-half before I was born. My grandfather called her “Kitten.” My mom and my aunt called her “Mommy” or “Mom.” I imagine that I would have called her “Grandmother,” because I called my grandfather “Grandfather.”
Although I’ve never met her, I’ve longed for her. I felt Minnie’s absence in everyone that knew her. It’s always felt like she was missing…like having a table set for four, but only three show up or knowing everyone around you has an inside joke that you’ll never be a part of. I’ve wanted to connect with her so badly that I’ve dreamed about her. In my dream, she wore that blue dress that I saw in her picture. We stared at each other for a long time without saying a thing. Then, I woke up crying.
Why couldn’t Minnie wait for me?
She was supposed to fatten me up with her scrumptious cooking. She was the grandmother I was supposed to bake cookies with…from scratch. She was supposed to teach me how to sew. She was the grandmother that was supposed balance my out my other grandmother, who took me to happy hour and preferred to be called by her first name. She was supposed to help me understand the mysteriousness of my own mother.
Minnie died when my mom was 21. So, when I was junior in college, I feared losing my mom too. I feared having to drop out of school and provide end-of life care for my mom, the way that she did for Minnie. Because Minnie died from ovarian or uterine cancer, my mom thought she had a tumor when she got pregnant with me and was experiencing early pregnancy symptoms.
My family members talked about her as if God robbed them when she died.They told stories of her extreme kindness, her gentleness, her warm demeanor and hospitality. I remember bumping into my great-aunt at Wal-Mart. She pulled a picture of my grandmother out of her purse and showed it to me. That’s the kind of woman Minnie was, the kind of woman that made you want to always carry her with you.
I felt Minnie’s absence most whenever my grandfather’s new wife was around my mom and aunt. They only had short conversations with her, and they never smiled when they talked to her or about her. It was like the real-life version of switching out a cast member on a TV show. It was like how we all felt when they changed actresses for Aunt Viv’s character on the Fresh Prince of Belair.
Minnie took so many answers with her when she died. I imagine how things would have been so much better if she were in my life. For 30 years, I’ve been trying to figure how to let go of a person that I never had. Now I know that I’ve had her spirit with me the whole time, and that it’s okay to grieve for her.