The Fifth February 27th

Each year I write a letter to my Grandma and post it on her birthday. When she was living, I wrote her poems every few years. Since she’s been gone, I’ve found these letters to be an integral part of learning to navigate a life without her in the daily happenings.

This year’s letter was harder to write than I expected. I didn’t feel like I had much to report, but then again, you’d love to read even the most mundane things if it meant I took the time to write.

In many ways I would describe this last year as both wonderful and weary. I made some tough decisions and tried to conjure what I thought you’d give as advice in each situation. I’m not sure I got it right…but I know I tried.

It was a year full of “I thought I would ____________ by now” and honestly it was hard to accept. No major milestones, but I’m learning to acknowledge progress as being enough.  The perfectionist overachiever in me doesn’t want to leave, but I’m finding a way to muffle her voice.

There were a few moments when I longed to return to your living room – to curl up on the couch with your tiger blanket, a warm bowl of mac ‘n cheese, and the Sound of Music on the tv. Your off-key singing wafting in from the kitchen as you danced and did the dishes.

The two of us in her living room. I still have that reindeer.

You’d be so proud of the community in which I’ve found myself a part. A group of questioners, oddballs, and sillies who know the secret combination of laughter and vulnerability. They’re my go-to people. They’re not you – they won’t ever quite “get” me as much as you did…but it’s the closest I’ve felt to normal since you left. I sometimes think about how they’d love to have you as a communal Grandma –they would cherish your knack for showing up at the most unexpected, but perfect, times.

Sister and I were sitting together a few months ago and she said, “I wish Grandma was here. She’s missed so much.” We sat in somber acknowledgement. This coming year will bring the third wedding bouquet not assembled by your hands. We continue to reach milestones while we strain to hear the memory of your cheers. We think fondly of your spot at our kitchen table and your ever-presence in the bleachers and pews of our lives. We’re following your example – we try our best to support and advocate for those around us. We move forward imperfectly, but in love.

I went back to your park a few weeks ago – the warm days in February seem to increase with each passing year. I wandered through the trees and spent some time by the water. I almost made it to sunset this time.

Happy Birthday, Carolyn Diana. Your sunshine loves you infinity plus seventy-three.

Goodbyes and Hellos

In the spring of 2006, I saw her photo for the first time. She was a joyful jumble of cheeks, scrunched nose, and pigtails. As I walked up to the table of packets, I saw her face and picked her immediately. Josselyn needed a sponsor, and as a college student with no consistent income, I decided to take the role. I agreed to a monthly commitment of money that would be a stretch for my little budget, but I was determined to make it work. I had no idea we’d spend the next 13 years in community with one another through letters and photos.

As years passed, I watched her baby face mature and her pigtails disappear. I marveled as her correspondence evolved from pictures, to words, to paragraphs full of insights and encouragement. She gave me descriptions of her life, her hobbies, and her dreams. I did my best to write back and send her pictures of my own, sharing milestones along the way. I beamed with pride as she recently told me of her wish to attend university and to visit Paris…and to one day meet me.

…and then yesterday, it all came to an end.

I received written notice from the organization that Josselyn had aged out of the program. No warning. No formal way to say goodbye, just a phone number to call to arrange my next sponsored child.  

After more than 13 years, we deserved closure. We’d built a friendship that deserved recognition.

I learned so much from my interactions with Josselyn over those years. She helped me keep a global focus and remember that my actions can affect people I will never meet. In a way, we both grew up. I am certainly not the same person I was in college, and she’s transitioned from preschooler to adult in that time.

I received the notice about Josselyn right after I scheduled my interview to begin the process of becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children in foster care. Coincidence?

I’m no longer Josselyn’s sponsor, but I’m going to be a voice for children in my community. My interactions with her are part of the journey that heightened my awareness of vulnerable children. This volunteer opportunity is the first step in what I hope will be a much larger story.

Thank you, Josselyn. Maybe we’ll meet in Paris someday.