This month I turn 61, the age my beloved grandmother committed suicide in 1964. With all that is going on in my life, I feel as if my life is only beginning. In all honesty, I cannot imagine putting an end to my life at this time. However, things were very different for my grandmother back then. After all, she was orphaned at the age of 11. Her parents had died from cholera and she was left to care for her 9-year-old sister. Her older brothers deserted them in Poland and fled to Austria where they thought they could make a good life for themselves.
The truth is, fallout of the pain from that early trauma must have become absolutely unbearable for her. My grandmother committed suicide by taking an overdose of Valium. It was the 1960s and not in vogue to seek the help of a psychotherapist. Had she been given the opportunity, who knows? She might still be alive today.
While my grandmother, Regina, was the only grandmother I ever knew and also my caretaker, my intention since that Labor Day Weekend in 1964 has been to celebrate her life, rather than mourn her death. My first celebration was to publish my first memoir, Regina's Closet: Finding My Grandmother's Secret Journal and dedicated to my grandmother. The book was a testament to our relationship and also the gift of her journal that she left behind for me, a retrospective sharing her life as an unwanted daughter and then losing her parents in World War I in Poland. She wrote the journal after she immigrated to the United States.
I continue to celebrate and honor my grandmother's life by following her passions for reading and writing. Both these pastimes are an integral part of my own life. This is my way of honoring her. Now, on the anniversary of the age she took her life and with my background as a writer and psychologist, I cannot help but think what must have been stirring around her troubled mind when she finally made the decision to end her life.
Reliving memories as a writer is a way to keep our loved ones alive. Plus, it is also a way to help us heal from trauma or difficult experiences. Through my own writing and research on her life, I learned that while my parents worked full time, my life gave my grandmother's purpose. Thus, when I became independent at the age of ten, my grandmother somehow thought it was time for her to check out.
Now, more than 50 years after the day she took her life in my room beside mine, the image of her lying on her bed beside the open window and sheet curtains is an image that will never leave me -- an image which is engraved on my soul like the signature a child makes in freshly poured cement. Similar to the cement being resurfaced, in order for me to obliterate that memory I would probably have to be brain-washed or be diagnosed with a disease that renders me helpless to recall my past. I would never want that any other way.
That's the way memories are. It seems as if we have little control over what sticks and what doesn't. One part of me wants to forget that day in 1964; yet, another part of me is thrilled for that side of my brain which can also preserve the wonderful memories and times I spent with my grandmother, my caretaker. I live in the hope that she is now resting in peace.
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