Deaf Grandma

She was there when I was born. She’d come to the maternity clinic along with my father, her son, and together they endured the thrill and anxiety that the process of birth always involves. My grandma was solid as a rock and always by the side of her loved ones at times of need, a loving shoulder to lean on when everything had gone pear-shaped. She had a tough life. She survived the vicious decade of the 1940s in Greece when the country suffered the atrocities of the civil war right after the Nazi occupation, which lasted for three years, ended. She lost her elder brother in the war and the trauma never ceased to haunt her even when she began to exhibit mild signs of dementia. 

Her name was Helen. A beautiful name. My father hoped that my brother’s firstborn girl, who saw the light of the world only 2 years before my grandma passed away, would be named after her, a sign of profound respect for the woman who raised him. However, the tiny lady was eventually named Olivia, subverting everyone’s expectations. Helen had 4 children and a husband who saw his role as the provider for the family and nothing more than that. She carried the burden while also working as a seamstress to make ends meet. In my eyes, she was a true heroine for all the hardships she faced throughout her life. I looked up to her since I was a little boy.

Even though nobody could accuse my grandma of being frigid, she wasn’t the type of individual to become embroiled in meaningless chit-chat with others. She loved us all profoundly, but always kept a certain distance. It always vexed me that we couldn’t establish the rapport I desired. Perhaps her aloofness had its roots in her upbringing and lost childhood which was marked by her beloved brother’s untimely death. Her mother was a strict despot who firmly believed that austerity is the quintessence of pedagogy. Thus, she never learned how to embrace human contact.

During her last years, Helen’s health was progressively deteriorating, and she’d come to live with our family in order to receive the necessary care. Dementia was added to her chronic hearing impairment that put a barrier to communicating with us. When I talked to her, I literally had to shout to be heard. I caught her many times trying to read my lips and always failing. I used to perceive her semi-deafness as a symbol and metaphor for her detached manner. Her condition saddened me as I was sure that she had such a rich inner world. Even though we didn’t have the opportunity to share our thoughts, I was convinced that she would it would be delightful to sit down and have a long talk with her.

Since she came home, I made several attempts to approach her. I thought that what would work best in terms of effectiveness in communication would be to ask her direct questions about her life and offer her the chance to share her reminisces of past joys and sorrows with her grandson who was a little boy no more. What was her relationship with her five sisters? How stringent her own mother really had been? But what I wanted most deep down was to learn about her ways of coping with personal disasters. I never saw her lose her cool regardless of the predicaments she had to face. 
At the time, I was traversing a rough period of depression mixed with addiction issues and chaos reigned in my life and mind. Helen’s stoic presence felt like a divine gift if it wasn’t for her hearing problem that limited her impact on me. I craved for words, wise words by an elderly woman of immense experience. So, one night, I knocked on the door of her tiny room and sat at the edge of the bed. I was feeling so low for such a long time. My parents were loving and caring but the communication between us was broken, mostly due of my persistent lies and precarious lifestyle. I told her in a loud, but soft voice:
“Grandma, I wanted to ask you something and I want you to be honest with me. Is it possible to return? Can I ever be the person, the good person, I was before? I feel dirty, ugly and old. I’m lost.”
 She took a long stare at me and said nothing. This startling confession was the bravest act I made in my entire life. I got up from the bed and I was ready to exit her room, sure that she hadn’t heard a single thing. As I was putting my hands on the door’s handle, I heard her articulating: “Dear boy, a man is more than his worst deed.” Since then, this aphorism became my beaconing light.
I was there when she died. One sizzling, hot night in July, right after dinner she complained of stomach pain and went to lie down early. Half an hour later she was dead. The doctors said that the cause was a massive heart attack. Her loss felt like a stab in the heart. I had never cried as much as I did the days after the event. The funeral was austere and attended by friends and relatives who felt obligated to pay farewell to a good woman. My beloved, deaf Grandma.

By Dimitris Passas 

Litro Magazine

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