The obituary would offer a name, explanation of character, and anyone left behind. Thousands like this were printed. Families paid per word to let the world know they had lost someone. Since women account for only 10% of news coverage, and even then, often our struggles are highlighted more than our celebrations – I opened one obituary of a woman and found her story.
Let me explain how connected women are. Three weeks ago Brittney dreamt her father called to say, “Nana died.”
“Where? What happened?” she asked. Nana had been taken to the hospital and died alone. Brittney called Nana in the dream and surprisingly, Nana answered. “Nana!” Brittney exclaimed, “You’re alive!”
“Of course I am,” Nana said.
“I dreamt you died without saying goodbye to us.”
“I wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye, but I know I am dying,” Nana replied.
Brittney sobbed in the dream and woke up just the same. The next day she went to Nana’s to hug her, to inhale her, to add a thread to their story. Brittney told her sister, Jenny, about the dream.
Nana died last Thursday. The last time Jenny saw her she was yelling at her family for taking advantage of Nana’s open heart. Jenny wished she had said enough sooner, learned Nana’s stories better, that she could have told her in one breath the reason she was upset and defending her.
It wasn’t blame that made her angry, but the strong claws of memory like when Nana would lay ceramic fruit on the table for Brittney and whisper, “Close your eyes and pick a fruit.” It could have been an apple or a watermelon Brittney chose but Nana would make her try again if she picked a fruit that wasn’t in season. Nana would replace the ceramic fruit with real fruit by the time she opened her eyes.
Nana greeted visitors with coffee, snacks, and conversation. If your mug ran out while hers still steamed, she would you hers. She was selfless, more than hot cups of coffee and shirts off of backs. She taught Jenny to test the boundaries of the impossible because Nana emanated the magic to do anything. She let her grandchildren dwell in the spirit of childhood. Jenny had been angry because she was defending her eight-year-old memory of carrying stones into Nana’s front yard to build a fire pit.
When someone dies here the certificate is signed and the fifty minutes prior to death are relayed in summary by hospital staff. Suddenly all of the memories of Nana’s lilies and petunias felt small against the reality of her being gone.
Nana’s almost two-year-old great-granddaughter, Nevaeh, used to walk into Nana’s house and say, “Nana, nana, where are you?” Even though she wasn’t told directly, the day Nana died she started saying, “Nana die?” When Jenny led her through Nana’s house after she died, Nevaeh didn’t ask once where Nana was. So how can we measure existence? Is it by memories stored in our bones? The one of Nana making porridge for Brittney to taste and calling her Goldilocks? The one when Jenny was four and told her parents she was running away to Nana’s, and she did, where she was greeted with cinnamon toast. Or was it Newport Beach, when Nana told Jenny that mermaids lived in the Pacific Ocean and Jenny thought she really saw one when she was seven and Nana said, “I saw it too!”
It is the legacy that Nana leaves with them – the belief that anything is possible because everything is magic, they are left knowing that the truest adventure in life is the daily persistence to find beauty and enjoy conversations over empty cups of coffee, and that when someone is left with a last sip of sweetness on the tongue it is our humble, basic, human duty to offer with two hands and an open heart that which we still have, that which others are reaching out for.
For International Women’s Day, for the women whose stories are condensed into short obituaries, because we move throughout history by way of recollection and the women we become are built, inch by inch, by the women who guide us.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future 2011 Assignment: Op-Eds.