when funerals are 3000 miles away

m.d. leto
Posted March 5, 2011 from United States

I couldn't help but write Nana's story for the op-ed. Before I could berate myself for not investigating the last protest at the Phoenix capitol over immigration, my own grandmother died. 12 hours after I sat around a fire, listening to my friend's stories about her grandmother so we could write her legacy, my father called to tell me my nanny passed away. I had just gotten back from a walk with the dogs. I was feeling peaceful after being caressed by desert spring air for an hour.

I didn't have the stories. I don't have the stories. Suddenly, my story, becomes the most important story again because when I go to speak nothing comes out. When I sit in sunlight and feel the wind, my heart breaks and I try to sing but can't get a vowel around a sob.

I opened photo albums - all of them. I was digging for artifacts. I needed to see my great-grandparents in Berlin. I needed to see my grandparents holding each other in front of a brownstone in Brooklyn. I needed to see my mom's parents in an arm chair in California. I needed to find the photo of my father before he went into the Navy, the one of my mother with her eyes closed so I could see where my lips and cheekbones came from. I have my grandfather's eyes and my mother's cheekbones. I have my grandmother's sense of resilience and my father's nose.

I work off of vision boards, three of them - foam - nailed into the living room wall. Articles, photos, haiku, bits of dialogue and scattered fragments of thought dwell in the same space. I turned one over, I found twenty photos, this is what I have from where I come from - a place where I was never able to memorize those who came before me by way of touch.

Today my grandmother is being buried at the same time my friend Jenny's Nana is. I'm not there because Jenny's best friend is also mine and they have known each other for 30 years, so I'm watching Rebekah's kids so she can be at the funeral, so she can read the story written about Nana around the fire. I'm taking the kids on a walk to remind them of how amazing it feels to walk, to breathe, to bathe in sunlight. At the Mesa Amphitheater today we will see the largest Jade Buddha of Peace, http://www.jadebuddha.org.au/en/ . My grandmother's funeral is 3000 miles away and plane tickets are the price of my monthly rent, so I'm going to see the Buddha of Peace because I know there is something I will find, maybe my grandmother in the wind as I gaze peacefully into Buddha's eyes, maybe the gratitude for youth and liveliness as I take three boys on an adventure through their town so they understand where they are, where they come from, and the beauty that surrounds us.

And I have realized, more than anything, more than articles about politicians and hidden agendas of multinational corporations, that I can't stop telling my story because the ones who came before me forgot...now I can only guess at the reason my great-grandmother fled from Berlin, how my grandfather looked when he arrived back from a war he did not want to fight in...since my parents no longer speak to one another - unless through one of their children - I can only guess at the truth of the life they created together and the reasons it fell apart.

And now the fireside conversations are more critical and my recorder will be on. I need Rebekah's kids to know their grandmother and I am always listening to her stories. I need to see my Papa and sit on the beach with him and ask him everything he knows about where I come from - he is the only surviving grandparent, he has everything and I need to write it.

Comments 3

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  • Nilima Raut
    Mar 05, 2011
    Mar 05, 2011

    Hi mei li, i am sorry to hear about your grandmother- may her soul rest in peace!

    And i really felt the sentiments of yours in the story,i felt the sadness in you in the absence of your grandmother in your life, and the compulsion to stay far not participating in your grandma's funeral. And i felt the warmth of your relationship with your grandmother! It made me curious when you write that you have grandfather's eyes and mother's cheek bones, isnt it so wonderful that people live within us being our part of life. We think the history is only history but it remains in us being a symbol sometimes or being in somebodyz heart or being a story!

    I like the way you have put your soul in this writing and i also can understand where did it came from, it came from the love that you have in your heart for your grandmother!

    Love you my sister

  • Olutosin
    Mar 07, 2011
    Mar 07, 2011

    I can feel YOU.

  • Vivian Emesowum
    Mar 07, 2011
    Mar 07, 2011

    It is so painful to watch our dear ones depart. O dear friend, your story touch my heart and I extend my regards.