Christmas 2019 was my first with two kids. My baby’s first christmas. It was also my beloved grandmother’s last.
She passed away on Christmas night.
I cherished my grandmother. She saw me and knew me in a way no one else did. As a small child, I was painfully shy and being around other adults overwhelmed me. Adults often expect shy kids to come out of their shells faster than I ever felt comfortable, but she never pushed me. She had a way of understanding and reassuring me and being one of the few adults I’d run to other than my parents. She was a safe place. A home.
One of my best friends suggested it must be quite a challenge balancing the early months of new life with the heaviness of this loss. It was the mirroring I needed to really articulate the sharpness of this grief. It is a challenge. I go from feeling joyous and hopeful when I look in my baby’s eyes to feeling heavy and dark with loss a moment later.
I’m out at sea riding huge emotional swells at a sudden recalled memory with my grandmother, then brought back to earth when my son rolls over for the first time. Basically, I weep at the slightest breeze these days. It’s a lot to hold.
It’s also the beauty and never-ending harmony of life. As my 4-year-old son (and budding sage) said recently, “dying is a part of living.”
An avid reader and constant teacher, my grandma was a champion of my writing. Even though it was a massive career shift for me, she encouraged it and told me time and again how proud she was of me for pursuing it. She didn’t even know that so much of her was infused in my book.
In LIGHTS UP, the main character, Paige, has a special relationship with her grandmother. As Paige struggles to find where she belongs and struggles to relate to her peers, to her sisters, to her parents, to herself, she is reassured again and again by her grandmother that she’ll find her way. Her grandmother is the only one who sees her clearly and pushes and nudges and loves her in all the right ways to get her to see and love herself more clearly.
That grandmother in the book is informed by, based on, and a celebration of my own. I was never going to write a coming-of-age novel that didn’t include the influence a loving grandmother can have, especially during the tumultuous teen years. My own loved me and all of her grandkids with such ferocity. We were her dream come true.
Celebrating her life and legacy this past weekend was a gift to start this year and decade. I now approach this new decade with a renewed perspective of what matters most, a full (if fragile) heart, and a lasting reminder to nurture my family, my writing, and myself with the same loving attention she always gave me.
My grief overwhelms me some days, but I’m comforted by life’s enduring truth: I hold my kids the way she held hers, the way she held me, the way love holds us all.