How to Save the Dead
Almost a month ago, my grandmother died of cancer. One moment, she was lying in a hospital bed in my brother’s old room, and the next she was gone. There was no profound moment. No angels swooping in through the open window to carry her away. No magical sunlight to turn her to dust. No thunderous cries of hallelujah. The unknown had stolen her away, and that was the end. Every page of her had been read and now the book was closed. People get old and they die. Our bodies rust and crumble under the pressure of time. When we “go” for the last time, we leave behind silence and empty space. After all, isn’t that why we fear death? It’s random and it doesn’t follow our rules. Death is the world’s most successful kidnapper. He steals our friends, parents and pets. Worst of all, with each new crime scene, he leaves behind no evidence, just a perfectly sterile wound in our hearts. Death is final. An icy killer. Right? If you ask me, I don’t think that’s the truth. I don’t believe my grandmother is dead and buried. It doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t seem right. How can a person be brimming with life and then cease to be anything? Here’s the truth. Here’s the story of my grandmother’s life after death.
Everything I’ve written so far is a lie. My grandmother never had cancer. She was never weak. She never died. Starting now, I will only write the truth. I promise. In order to really understand my grandmother’s story, you need to get to know her first. I want you to feel like she’s an old friend you’re visiting for tea. Try to picture her sitting across from you at a small wooden table that creaks when you laugh at her jokes. Imagine her warm smile and shimmering blue eyes. My grandmother was a living paradox. She worked at the happiest place on earth, Disney, but sometimes she didn’t seem very happy. For a long time, she was an alcoholic who could be rude and wild, but then she traded the drinks for art. She created beautiful paintings but could never truly see her own genius. She could never finish her dinner, but she always saved room for dessert. She joked about growing old and her death, but never stopped crying when my cousin fatally overdosed at 18. She had her imperfections, but she was perfect.
I remember being terrified when I was forced to leave my home on the first day of college. I was holding on to the past. I didn’t want to things to change. I didn’t want to say goodbye. As I got in my car, I tried to drive away. I only made it around the block before I broke down and drove back to my house. I couldn’t leave. It felt like my very soul was connected to my house. Abandoning my home would be like ripping my soul into a million pieces, chewing the pieces up, spitting them onto the ground and stomping on them. Maybe I’m being a little overdramatic. You get the point. Compared to the emotional thunderstorm raging inside of me, my grandmother’s rosy face looked as tranquil as a sleeping baby. As I walked up to her, I noticed she looked like she was aging 1000 years by the minute. I pressed my soggy face next to hers while we hugged. She smiled and looked at me knowingly. I started to pull away when she whispered, “You can’t stay young forever. Life would be boring if nothing ever changed. There is joy in every stage of life. You just have to find it.” Her words have stuck with me ever since that day. If you spend all your time worrying about growing older, you’ll miss out on the moments that make you feel young again. My grandmother was someone who didn’t just understand life. She understood how to live.
“You can’t stay young forever. Life would be boring if nothing ever changed. There is joy in every stage of life. You just have to find it.” — Grammy Carla
So where is my grandmother now? What has become of this wonderful person? Right now, she’s on a cruise around the world. She’s met a retired French diplomat, who looks like Paul Newman, and they’re dating. She thwarted a bank robbery. She published a best-selling murder-mystery novel and is using the profits to build libraries in Africa. She’s curing cancer and painting masterpieces. She’s the star of an upcoming movie based on her very real adventures. She’s climbing mountains and swimming in the oceans. When I visit her, she looks like someone who has achieved total bliss. She is grounded in our strange world yet somehow living above it. Our talks last for hours as we sit over steaming hot coffee and pour pot after pot down our throats. We dance together in the darkness. We sing with joy about roller skates, snowmen and everything in between. When I’m with her, I never feel alone. She’s found the greatest treasure in the world. A life full of love.
“She’s found the greatest treasure in the world. A life full of love.”
My parents joke that I should quit school to become a writer for a living. I might be the only kid in the world with parents who actually want that. I’m not actually sure that I am a writer. I consider myself more of a storyteller. I have always been obsessed with creating stories, but I have struggled to share my stories. Like my grandmother, I find it hard to tell if my art is actually “good.” Doubt causes me to give up on projects before they’re actually finished. I have notebooks filled with pages of half completed ideas. This time, though, I promised my grandmother I would finish telling her story. She taught me to not fear rejection of my art. I won’t kill my ideas. I can’t bury my creativity in the graveyard.
Stories have always been important to my grandmother and I. When she and I share a story it feels like we’re sharing our own private world. My grandmother would often tell stories about fantastic worlds and magical characters. As a young child, I would fall asleep to her singing lovely lullabies. On those nights, I would dream of adventuring with my grandmother. She was the queen ruling over the peasants while I was the young prince on a quest to rescue the princess. Together, we conquered kingdoms and slayed monsters.
Everything I’ve written is the truth and a lie. When I write, I can change the truth. I can make a lie the truth, and I can make the truth a lie. In my stories, I can bring my grandmother back to life. I can save her beautiful smile, her kindness and goofy personality. I can make her paint the stars and the seas. I can replace the cancer and the pain with love and comfort. I can take her on adventures. I can hug her one last time. I can give her another chance at life. I can keep her from fading away. I can make her into a hero. I can make her accomplish anything. I can help her win shiny trophies. I can give her the freedom to explore the world. I can make sure she is never forgotten. I can make her greater than cancer. I can make her happy. I can show the world who she was and who she could have been. I can save her.
Note: Article originally published in the Coffeelicious on Medium in November 2015.