dear gram

Last week my family gathered in Goshen, Indiana to celebrate the life and mourn the death of my Dad’s mother. Considering that I never thought I would find myself wanting to attend a funeral—who does?--it is ironic that I found myself wishing that, when they dug the grave, they could continue until they had dug the proverbial tunnel to China—well, actually to Viet Nam—and that I could fall through the bowels of the earth to make a surprising appearance next to my grandmother’s grave.

Not because it would really have done anyone any particular good for me to be there. Not because I thought that my presence would somehow ease her passage into the afterlife. Not because I felt a need, like that of my Vietnamese family, to present her spirit with gifts and seek, in turn, her blessing on my life. No—I felt an impossible desire to be present because her life had already been such a blessing that there was nothing more to be asked of her.

I wanted to be with my family during this time not to ease their sadness—I don’t think I really have particularly good counseling skills—but rather to cry with them, and in so doing somehow make the reality more real to myself and, eventually, to laugh with them, turning slowly through the vivid memories of Grandma's life and cherishing each now-even-more-precious moment.

Being unable to actually penetrate through the muddy alleys of Hanoi far enough to even catch a whiff of a field of sweet corn in Indiana, I made do with my own memories. As I reflected, I found myself wishing that I could once again wander with Grandma through the aisles of quilts at the Mennonite Relief Sale, exclaiming over their minuscule stitches, which never cease to amaze me; or play Rummikub with her while eating ice cream and drinking the Vernors’ ginger ale she bought just for me when I came to visit; or squeeze into the back seat of Grandma and Grandpa’s tiny pickup truck for a road trip from Arizona to Indiana…

But really, such wishes are not only futile, but also selfish, and all I really want to say is:

Dear Gram,

I’m so happy that you can breathe again.

I’m relieved that you can breathe well enough to be finally rid of that horrid wheelchair—that you can walk comfortably again. I’m glad that you can once more use your green thumb to nurture the flowers that you always loved so much, and that you can do so in a place where, if the streets are paved with gold, the flowers must surely surpass the beauty of earthly gems.

I’m so thankful for the example you have left me, and I can only hope to follow it in some way, even if my imitation looks far different from the life you lived. Although I seem to lack all traces of the mothering instinct expected of my gender, and even if I never have children, or grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, I hope that my life can somehow reflect the way you chose to live yours; I hope that I can learn to focus less on doing great things and more on--as Mother Teresa said it and you lived it--doing "small things with great love."


  1. Calah, I was reading my devotions recently and the following verse brought you to mind. Your letter to your Grandmother made me want to post it as a comment. I hope that's ok. You are amazing. "May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your heart and strengthen you in every good deed and word." Keep being awesome in Viet Nam.

  2. Calah, I first read this on Sat after spending the morning at the relief sale. Thank you for writing this because it helped bring Grandma into my day. Your timing was perfect.