I’ve thought a lot about writing lately. It’s something I used to do so often and it saddens me that I don’t practice this skill more on my free time.
I used to write a lot of poetry, especially as a teenager. However, when I was younger, I used to write stories. Often fictional, these stories were written to humor or to entertain. When I started writing papers in high school, my teacher told me when writing non-fiction, I had to write more seriously. Her exact words were “Hayley, you are a great writer, but you have to write more..well..boring.”
I tried to practice this. But somewhere along the road, I began to take true personal stories and write them as if they were a work of fiction. I told my stories in the same lens I would use if I were writing one of the fictional stories I wrote in my childhood. I didn’t want someone to read my work and yawn. I wanted them to feel as though I was there with them, telling them the story conversationally. It stuck.
The reason I am telling you all about this is because today is the anniversary of my Grammy’s passing and I have a story to tell about the last memory I have with her. It is titled, “The Picture.” It goes like this:
I was greeted by my aunt’s somber face as I walked through the front door of her home-turned-hospice. “She’s not having a good day today, sadly. She’s in a lot of pain.” Nodding, I braced myself for the tough scene I was about to find myself in. I walked through the doorway, said hello to my Grandpa, and saw her. My Grammy lay in bed, her skin tinted purple from the neck down. She lay on her side, unable to speak much, but aware of her surroundings. A slide show of family photos played on the tv. I said hello and gave her a light kiss on the cheek. She tried to smile. As I leaned over her I saw she was eating a lollipop. She barely had an appetite, but it didn’t stop her sweet tooth. As she watched the slideshow, I said “I have one with me.” I reached in my purse and slid out the photo I had been keeping in there for weeks. It was of the two of us: I was about one or two years old and I sat on her lap, pacifier in mouth, pink footed pajamas. Her mouth was slightly agape, probably mid-song. I handed it to her. She grasped it and looked at it with an intense focus. Although her mouth could not form the expression, her eyes smiled. This was how I left her, lollipop in one hand, our picture in the other, her eyes sparkling.
A day or two after that, my Grammy slipped into a coma. A week later, she passed away. That week and the days that followed are hard memories to bring back. The little moments shared with my cousins and family made the pain bearable: The tally of how many life saver mints were eaten between the six of us grandchildren sitting in the funeral home lobby, the awkwardly loud laughs following the stories of my aunt, uncles’, and father’s childhood with my Grammy and Grandpa. But the moment I take with me always is what I walked into at that wake. My aunt stopped me before I walked into the viewing room, “I’m so sorry Hayley. I knew you and her were like this.” She crossed her fingers, an expression of closeness. “Hayley, I have something for you. She was holding this when she passed away.” I looked down at the item in her hands: a little girl in pink pajamas and a pacifier stared at the camera, her role model holding her, mouth slightly open in mid-song. It was slightly sticky with green apple lollipop. I smiled and I took the picture, our picture, from her hands. “Thank you.”
Five years later, I slipped the same picture into a pocket inside my costume, located right near my heart, and stepped onto the North Shore Music Theatre stage and performed for my Grammy, and for all other people affected by cancer. In a few weeks, I will do this again in another show with Voices of Hope Boston, an organization that has enabled me to perform in memory of my Grammy and to help raise money towards cancer research. I will continue to do this with our picture held against my heart, forever my angel.