Over the course of our life time we might receive meaningful mementos from loved ones that can change our lives. Now that I am in my late sixties, and have lost many loved ones, I’ve been blessed with some meaningful momentos. For me the two most meaningful momentos were from my maternal grandmother, who blessed me with four needlepoint chairs she made when she was in her forties, and also receiving her retrospective journal depicting her life as an orphan in Poland during World War I. Her parents died of cholera when she was eleven years old, about the same age I was when she took her life with an overdose of sleeping pills in my childhood home. She then moved to Vienna and married my grandfather before immigrating to the United States, seven years after my mother was born.
After my grandmother died, my parents continued to live in my childhood home for thirty more years. When it came time to pack up and move, they stumbled across my grandmother’s journal. She wrote about the challenges of growing up without parents and having to go to school, work and take care of her own domestic responsibilities. In view of my close relationship with my grandma, my mother gifted me with the journal. Only after reading it did I fully understand the deep roots of her depression, which tormented her during her entire life, and eventually led to her suicide at the age of sixty-one.
I had tucked the journal away until many years later when I was diagnosed with cancer. I wanted to see if she’d committed suicide because of a cancer diagnosis. She died in the 1960s — a time when discussing cancer was considered taboo.
Although I found out that she did not have cancer, while reading her journal I felt reconnected with her through her words. I was reminded of how she taught me to type on her black Remington typewriter perched on the vanity in her room, and how the experience planted the seeds of my writing passion.
“Have a seat,” she’d said on that momentous day, pointing to her vanity chair. “Typing is a handy skill for a girl to have. Plus, you never know what kinds of stories you’ll have to tell one day.”
She stood behind me, her image reflected in the mirror in front of me. She took my right hand and…