A week ago, I became an aunt for the first time as my brother and sister-in-law welcomed their first child into the world. On the same day, my grandmother was admitted to the hospital and our family learned that she would not be coming home. A week later, she passed away, surrounded by her children in palliative care.
It seems almost fitting and seems to happen often that when someone enters the world, another person leaves it. As the expression goes, when God closes a door, he opens a window. I know that my brother is very sad to have never had the opportunity to introduce his newborn son to his great-grandmother. But he paid her the greatest tribute by keeping our family name alive, as the only grandchild who was in a position to do so.
If my grandmother taught us one thing about life, it’s the importance of family. Absolutely nothing was more important to her than her family – and she had quite a big family.
She came from a family of six children, who as young adults, left their parents behind and immigrated to Canada from Greece in the early 1960’s. Her sister came first with her husband and slowly the others all followed suit with their families.
As immigrants in a new land who didn’t speak the language and who had to work around the clock in factories and kitchens to make ends meet, their objective was to create a better life for their children and families. As a new Canadian, my grandmother was poor but she was proud. She and my grandfather only wanted the best for their children, and over time, they achieved it.
When my grandmother passed away, she left behind five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren (and one on the way). She was so proud of her great-grandchildren, the oldest of which is my son at two years old. She would proudly tell people in her heavily accented English: “Me grandmother two times!”
To her, there was no greater accomplishment in life than to have children. From the time my husband and I got married seven years ago, she began to harass me to get pregnant. She didn’t understand that we were still young and that we weren’t ready to be tied to the responsibility of being parents. She didn’t understand that my husband had gone back to school and that for us it was not the right time. In her view, there was no more important job for us to do. Yes, she was proud that we were well-educated and had good careers. But in her view, life is not complete without children.
When my son was born, she was bursting with pride. In her view, I had finally begun to achieve my life’s purpose. Except that by that point, she had begun to suffer from a mild dementia. So she very freely told everyone exactly what she was thinking, over and over again. And she informed me that while it was wonderful that I had a son, it was now time to have a daughter.
A daughter, she told me, will take care of you. A daughter will be close to her mother. A daughter can do for a mother what a son never can. All I could do was laugh, because obviously it’s not the kind of thing that I can control. And while I hope that I am one day blessed with a daughter, I am happy that I was able to give her a great-grandchild.
As I saw my grandmother live her last few days of life, I finally understood while she felt it was so important to have children. She did not go alone. At every moment in the last week of her life, she had someone beside her. Someone who loved and cared for her, who cried for her and smiled as they reminisced about her life. She left her mark on the world, in the form of two children, five grandchildren and five (soon to be six) great-grandchildren. She has left a legacy.
While I know it’s not in everyone’s destiny to have children of their own, whether by choice or not, I am happy that I have become a mother. I am happy to be surrounded by a loving family of my own. My grandmother’s lesson is one which is close to my heart; because I too believe that the most important thing in life is family.