The letter I didn’t send and the regret I’ll have about it forever
OPINION: Because I thought I had more time with my grandma, I made a decision that I wish I could do over.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
2022 has been a rough year for my family. In February, a few days after turning 65 years old, my mother passed away. Since this is something I know many people have dealt with, I won’t dwell on it, but there’s nothing that can truly prepare you for the loss of a parent, and losing your mother is different. As is to be expected, the past few months since her passing have been difficult for our family in many ways. It gets easier, of course, but you never cease to feel and experience the loss.
On Sept. 3, my grandmother—my mother’s mother—passed away at 86. She had been struggling for a long time physically; mentally, she was as sharp as a tack. Her body seemed to be slowly giving out on her and eventually, it did. I’m happy that she’s no longer suffering, and I have tons of memories and stories from and with my grandmother, who will be tremendously missed. I, unfortunately, now carry a regret tied to them. I realize that feeling any regrets is pointless, but the sting is there and the lesson is absolutely burned into my brain.
My grandma was a funny, strong, tough woman with a ton of great stories about her life in France in the 1930s and 1940s raising kids and then moving to America. I also regret that I never committed all of those stories to video as was my plan before the pandemic. My grandmother hadn’t been back to France since moving to America, so I got her an iPad so she could look at pictures and such to see what it looked like now. And she liked to write.
My grandmother and I were pen pals. Several times, over the course of every year, we’d write each other letters and send cards back and forth. We didn’t have any substantial conversations in those letters, typically we’d just talk about the mundane parts of life and keep up with simple goings-ons. She’d tell me how her cats and dogs were doing or how the weather was or how she had to go to the hospital for this or that. I’d get the letter or card and then head off to buy one and send her a letter back. I don’t even know how long we’d been doing this, though I can remember having a conversation with my mother about me and my grandma writing to one another when I was in grad school. So, at least almost 20 years.
Even though those letters were short and simple, they were our bond. My mother once told me how much my grandma enjoyed receiving letters from me. It was our thing. She appreciated that I’d take the time to actually write a letter and it gave her joy to do the same for me. I have a bunch (not all) of those letters in a drawer in my house and now it’s a little time capsule of the past years. It was our thing—which is why I’m now kicking myself, over and over.
On Aug. 14, I got a call from my sister telling me that my grandmother was being given hospice care in her home. She had gone to the hospital the night before, and the doctors realized she was too frail to operate on, so the goal was to keep her comfortable. They didn’t know how much longer she had so the phone calls went flying left and right. I was out of town on vacation with my family and trying to decide what to do next. Should I cut our vacation short and head to Michigan? I got a call the next morning saying my grandmother was doing well and based on all of the information, she seemed to be doing well. The doctors actually gave her up to another six months. I talked to her. She was doing fine, eating, doing things she could around the house. She felt OK, though still not great.
I intended to head up to visit my grandmother when I got back home to Washington, D.C. I communicated with my grandmother and my cousin who was tending to her care and was giving constant updates; my grandmother seemed to be doing fine. When I got back to D.C., I went out and got a card so I could send one last one to her. But in the back of my mind I thought, OK, she’s doing OK, and by all accounts from everybody who is present, she’s at max strength so I have more time. I debated about this actually—should I send it or hand deliver, and I thought hand delivering it would be nice for both of us. I made a plan to go in early September to visit her and I was going to hand deliver a final card to her where I let her know how much I loved her and appreciated her. Obviously, I wanted to put eyes on her, but I also wanted to give her the card.
That Friday, she was still doing OK based on the text messages I exchanged with my cousin. I told my wife I was heading up to see her early that next week. On that Saturday morning, my phone rang and it was my cousin and as soon as I saw her name, my heart sank. I answered the phone, and she confirmed my fear; my grandmother passed away in her sleep. Aside from the sadness I felt from the loss of my grandmother, no matter how “prepared” we were, I was also immediately upset at myself for not sending a card to her as soon as I heard she was in hospice care and assuming I had more time. The lesson, of course, is to act immediately. I wish I had gone up, of course, but I really wish I had sent that card to her. I don’t think it would have changed anything, but it would have been nice to have made sure to keep our tradition up to the very end. I owed her a letter; she had just written me one at the end of July. It was my turn.
I’ll be upset at myself for that forever, but I did speak with her and told her I loved her and the last letter I sent—back in June—I told her I loved her and looked forward to seeing her. That never happened. I thought I had more time, but as life reminds us over and over, that isn’t always true. I love you and miss you, grandma; this is my letter.
And to everybody else, send whatever your version of the card is; you really don’t know when it will be too late.
Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).
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