Me and my siblings with my grandmother

Losing a Loved One and Reliving Memories

I lost my grandma last December and suddenly had to experience mourning for the very first time. Sure, I’d experienced death before but only in subtle ways. My dad’s mom died when I was two years old and I have no memories of her except the dollhouse I had in my bedroom that she bought me. I remember both of my great-grandmothers dying, but again was too young to feel a real loss. I do have one distinct memory from my great grandmother's death. My grandma used to always repeat the story: her mom was sick and she took me to the nursing home to visit her and cheer her up with my sassy six-year-old persona. I looked at my great-grandma in her wheelchair and said “you shouldn’t be afraid of dying because when you die you become one of the stars in the sky.” She smiled at me, and ever since my grandma said I made her feel so much better about leaving this world behind. I can only hope that my grandma remembered, as she died, what I said thirteen years prior. 

The other day, I stumbled upon a photo of my siblings and me with my grandma. We were all laughing and making silly faces together. I was suddenly hit with a fear I had never experienced before: what if one day, I don’t remember all the details about my grandmother? What if she slowly begins to slip out of my memory, almost like what I saw happen to her in her final years?

Me and my siblings with my grandmother Photo by Ellen Schwartz

I have a habit of forming irrational fears, and while I know I will never truly forget her, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness. With that, I thought it would be a good idea to sit and reflect on some of the best memories we shared together. 

The very first time I rode an airplane, it was with her. I must have been four or five, and I remember going to sleep in anticipation of waking up before sunrise to take a car to the airport. We were going to California for a bat mitzvah, and at what must’ve been 5:00 in the morning, my grandma tiptoed into my room singing “California here we come.” I shot out of bed, full of adrenaline and unwavering excitement. I squeezed her hand as the plane took off and anxiety fizzled in my stomach. I laughed with her as we landed on the west coast, a place I had never seen before. 

Nine years later, I left the United States for the first time on a trip that was only my grandma and me. It was now MY Bat Mitzvah and her gift to me was a trip to wherever I chose to. At the prime of both my Harry Potter and One Direction phase, I easily chose to travel to London. So, off we went together to get new passport photos, once again holding hands as the plane left the runway and sharing a laugh as I stepped onto international soil for the first time.

me and my grandma at the tower of London Photo by Nicole Stein

My grandma has traveled all over the world, always bringing home handmade art and knick-knacks to give to her grandchildren. She traveled to Guatemala and brought me back worry dolls I could keep under my pillow to rid me of anxious dreams. So, traveling together was an irreplaceable experience.

We spent over a week exploring London front to back, walking up and down the city, sharing our deep love of both food and shopping. We ate Indian food in Brick Lane, fish and chips at the local pub, and tried the trendy Cereal Killer cafe. We visited Harrods and Hamley's and even went to the Harry Potter studio tour where I got to teach her all about my favorite books. I made fun of her for falling asleep in the middle of dinner and she praised me for my unmatchable navigational skills (but really I just understood Google Maps and she did not). We saw the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, rode the London Eye, and looked at flowers in Hyde Park. We saw both a musical and play on London’s west end, took a boat to Greenwich to see the national maritime museum, toured Shakespeare's globe theatre, saw Big Ben, the Tower of London, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. We did our best to navigate the underground and we talked to many, many strangers. That was something my grandma was always ready for: interacting with anyone and everyone and hearing their stories. I am much less likely to approach strangers, and always have been, but I always admired her interest in humans. We met other tourists from places like Greece and Australia, and socialized with local Londoners, and saw their favorite lunch spots and secret shopping tricks. When our trip came to a close, I had officially caught the travel bug and could not wait to continue exploring the world. She taught me the best way to travel: walk, talk, explore, and make the best of every obstacle you may approach along the way. 

Me and my Grandma on Hagrid's Bike Original photo by Nicole Stein

Every time I take an airplane somewhere now, I think back to my grandma telling me not to be afraid. As I was anxious about flying, she would always squeeze my hand and say “just pass all your worries to me.” I can worry enough for the both of us,” and I would squeeze back and try my best to be calm. But even with the anxiety, I would never take back those airplane trips we had together. And actually, I realize now that as long as I have any memories at all, I won’t ever forget her and all the incredible memories and experiences we shared. 

I’ve learned, from losing a loved one for the first time, that while she may not be here with us anymore, nobody can ever take away the things she taught me, shared with me, or the love she showed me. I miss her so much every single day, but I know how happy she would be to see me smiling and growing into the best version of myself I could be.

grandma and I Photo by Ellen Schwartz