Je suis prest pour apprendre le francais.
That’s what I was going to say when I called. We had so many conversations about having those conversations in French if I wanted to try. I did want to try, of course, but I was embarrassed at how bad I might be and I didn’t want to be bad – in front of you – at something we both loved so much. Sounds stupid now. I’d give anything to rewind a couple of weeks and chat with you in your native tongue.
I know people see me drowning in this and they think, “what’s the big deal? Everyone has lost a grandmother.” They only think that because they don’t know who you were, who we were. I won’t attempt to write that here, because I think it would be impossible, but I have gathered a few thoughts to keep for myself.
When other people hear the term “Iron Lady” they probably think of Margaret Thatcher. Maybe some younger, stupid ones think of the Statue of Liberty. I always think of you. Strong and unyielding, a real force of nature. A woman who would plunge her hands into scalding hot water because that was the best way to wash dishes, walk 15 miles in a day without complaint (and in fact, prefer it to driving), the woman who caught me by my hair and pulled me up when I slipped and fell off an actual cliff.
Having grandchildren softens a person, and I think it made you – as Goldilocks would say – “just right”. I hear stories about you being conservative with your praise but with me, you gave it so freely. I felt empowered by your true and steady belief in me. You were my compass, my North Star, encouraging me to try new things and have adventures. At the same time, you were an anchor, helping me feel safe in knowing that I always had a home to go back to. A refuge.
To be known, seen, understood – and to have that revelation of understanding DEEPEN love, not repulse it – is something I have only ever felt from you and Bonpapa. You did not tolerate me, you did not chastise me, your love was based on nothing that might be taken away or failed. It simply was. I could sit next to you and FEEL the love radiate from you. I know that in thousands of instances, you made a conscious choice to see and speak to only the good in me.
You were otherworldly. We both knew it. Your psychic dreams, your knowing. Remember when you called to ask me if I was pregnant? I lied to you, but you had known. When you realized I had similar gifts, you pointed to me and said I was witchy like your grandmother but the sparkle in your eye and half-grin on your lips always betrayed how much you liked that about me, related to it. I wasn’t like her, I was like you.
A tri-lingual translator for the allies who lost her home and family’s title in the war, lost her beloved father at 9, ate grass sometimes to survive and cursed the Germans frequently. An athlete and raven-haired beauty queen who held every man’s heart in the palm of her hands. Coy, coquettish, playful, talented, quick-witted, smart. Strong. Unyielding. Unashamed. Different. Proud. I didn’t meet this young enchanting version of you but I could see her in your eyes, hear her in your voice.
The version I met was still a beauty, still playful. She had a radio in the kitchen playing Lionel Ritchie while she cooked. She took me to the symphony and the ballet so I would have a love for the arts. She made French bread every Sunday after mass, always pointing out that it wasn’t perfect because the “American” ingredients aren’t the same. She took my brother and me to France – twice – so that we could understand and appreciate her history and our own.
There was nothing you could not do, my fiesty fearless conqueror princess. Not many people know what a magnificent woman you were. There should be books written about you, epic movies made. They wouldn’t do you justice but you deserve them.
My sister, the mother of my heart, my partner in crime. The first – maybe only – person I really wanted to tell about returning to Paris because I knew that you wouldn’t just listen, you would understand. You wouldn’t just understand, you would feel. Describing that day, when I turned and saw the Eiffel Tower with the sun rising behind it and I wept, we wept together. I felt happy to have someone to share that with, and a little sad because I knew that some part of that sadness in you stemmed from knowing you would never get to see your beloved France again. My heart ached for you.
I hope that you are there now. I hope that you and Bonpapa are together, traveling as you liked to do, laughing, free. I hope that being all-knowing hasn’t changed your opinion of me. I hope that you can feel my love and see my heartbreak and be honored by it. I hope that you are already planning when you might visit me in a dream.
My whole life changed in a moment. My reality shifted. This is the biggest, the most profound loss, and that is why I am drowning in it. If you are the thing I held myself up to, defined myself with, what am I now? I am empty, floating, directionless. I am filled with guilt that I didn’t call you when my intuition provoked me. I am filled with sorrow that by the time I got to you, you couldn’t speak to me or laugh with me.
I will miss all the secret things that I have not written here. I will cling to the memories of my childhood, which you built around me from scraps my parents left lying around and your own beautiful love and strong will. I will be grateful every day of my life for every day of yours. I will do my best to love my children the way you showed me, and to travel with them and talk to them like grown-ups and empower them. We will eat pastry for breakfast and send postcards to ourselves and I promise to speak French with them. I will wear dresses for no reason and rings on all my fingers and I will stop apologizing for who I am.
Je t’aime beaucoup, my beautiful flower. My soul cries out to yours in separation. I will count the days until we meet again. xoxo bisous I love you, Bonmama. Beaucoup beaucoup.