Grandmother Speaks from the Other Side

My darling granddaughter —

When I spoke of going on my new “adventure” in the afterlife, I didn’t realize it would be as lonely as life had become for me in the world of the living at 89.  Still I knew it was time to go.  My long life of struggle against pain and loss needed to come to a close…

In my horribly burned skin, as I struggled with the worst pain of my life, I looked back on the arc of my life, and what I saw was a dedication to rise above hatred, ignorance, and darkness, a need to give back, and in the end an understanding that I had run out of strength to carry on.  This happens to all of us.

My father whom I adored from the very beginning taught me to develop the qualities of hard work and decency and generosity.  Work was everything to him.  When he lost my mother and I contracted infantile paralysis at two, he turned away, and plunged into his work as a lawyer and later politician.  My father was the symbol of everything I dreamed of becoming:  educated, hardworking, kind, and righteous in his opinions.  He taught me never to give up.  Goldie whom he hired to take care of me taught me compassion and gentleness. She bathed me and held me and looked affectionately into my deformed face, trying hard to take the place of my mother Sallie, knowing it to be an impossibility.  And over the years, I kept looking into her pale sweet face trying to find my mother…

I worked hard in school, practiced the piano with great seriousness, and always watched my table manners, in the hopes that my father’s face would soften toward me, that he would tell me more about my mother, but he kept himself locked away.  He didn’t know how to talk about the pain and loss.  So our Charleston house on Hazel Street was a place of shadows and darkness, the spirit of my mother Sallie Ingelsby wandering endlessly through the halls.  This is what it felt like when I was little.

The choices I made as I grew up and moved away from Charleston were informed by my need to become strong, caring, self sufficient, to develop my mind to the fullest, and by my continuing search for someone trustworthy to love.  I always carried my mother’s portrait, and as I looked into the fading photograph, I tried to find the loving heart I never knew.  I imagined that by perfecting myself and becoming the model person, I might become seen by my mother…

Marriage didn’t give me a great deal — in those days it wasn’t supposed to really — and my two sons confounded me in their foreignness.  I am afraid I wasn’t a very good mother.  But much later when you were born at the end of the war, I felt an immediate surging of love and affection inside.  You were the daughter I had never had, and I promised myself to love and watch over you always.

I hope what I have said is helpful to you now.  Remember that you know a lot more of me than you realize…  I feel honored you want to tell my story.  And I’m always with you — never forget that.




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