I saw him during his last summer alive. He wasn’t the same anymore. He had aged ten years from the last time I saw him, two years before and he could hardly speak because his stroke had paralyzed part of his face. Before I got on the plane back to the States I thought about taking a picture with him but his stroke had also paralyzed his smile, his happiness. He seemed so sad while I was there and I selfishly didn’t want that memory captured in a photo. I just hugged him goodbye. He sobbed and I did too because we both knew this would probably be the last time we hugged each other.
On my way to the airport, I nearly asked the cab driver to turn around. “I need a picture with my grandfather,” I kept telling myself but I was also afraid that he would just tell me “no.” I stayed quiet. An hour and a half later I was on an airplane and there was no turning back.
My grandfather died a few months after the last time I saw him. I thought about that fact that I did not have a picture with him from my last trip to Ecuador. I texted my cousins on our group text trying to find comfort in the fact that I was so far away from all of them. I kept thinking that I should have made the cab driver turn around so I could hug him one last time, give him a kiss on his forehead and get a picture with him. But I couldn’t. All I had from the last of our interactions was purely tucked away in my memory.
Memories can be painful but for me, memory has also been healing and transformative. When I was separated from my family at five years old, my memory is all I had. There were some pictures and some phone calls but none of that did the job of preserving my relationship with the family I had spent nearly every day with. For thirteen years before I finally saw them again, I depended on my memory to hang on to the trust and love that I had for my family even though I hardly knew them anymore. When we reunited, I knew very little about them or how they spent their days, but the love and the trust was still there and it was stronger than I remembered.
When my grandfather died, one of the first things I did was dig through my creative writing folders from college to find a memoir I had written about my childhood in Ecuador. There were two paragraphs dedicated solely to him. I sat at the end of my dining room table alone while I read and cried what I had captured about him through my writing. I read what I wrote with no judgment about my grammar or the way I had expressed myself. I just read what I wrote feeling grateful that I had these paragraphs to go back to as I mourned him and remembered him. I typed up each word from my memoir into a new document on my computer and posted it on the very website you’re reading from today. It was the first time in about five years that I shared something I wrote. Not just something I wrote, but a piece of writing that I spent time rereading and getting feedback on from others. It was something I crafted.
Over the past year, I have crafted more pieces of writing than I have in years. There are pieces of writing that I haven’t shared on my website and others that I have. Making time to write again has been empowering and comforting. After obsessing over not having a final photograph of my grandfather, I found comfort in words I had written about him from my youth. Today, I find comfort in knowing that I have the power of capturing a moment, a person or an experience even when there is no camera or the time is not right for a flash.
Cheers to all the writers who experience healing through writing. I share this again in memory of my grandfather: Excerpts from “When I Had Shoes”