Sometimes, when you’re not sure where to start, you should start with the beginning, with the essential. That’s the simplest thing to do. And in these times, simple is good.
I love you, grandma. It’d be silly to start with anything else but this. I love you purely and with all my heart. You passed away this morning, leaving us at 8:00 a.m. It’s my dad who told me a little later, at around 8:30 a.m.
It’s brainstem metastases that killed you. A cancer, yep. A cancer, or something like that because I don’t care about “why.” Obviously, the “why” matters, but not to me. Not today. You died this morning, and the “why” is a motherfu-you-know-what today.
I’m sorry, grandma. I shouldn’t swear, I know. Instead, I should say that I’m so sad. That I’m so mad. That I’m so hurt and that I’m so confused. But it changes all the time, it’s never the same thing for long. I always feel different. And there’s nothing like a good swear to say everything at once, a good fu- or sh- or motherfu-. But I know, I won’t do that. Not today. Instead, I cry.
I cry because it hurts, grandma. I’m sure that it hurts way less than it hurt you—they say you didn’t suffer but, I mean, you died so you must have suffered. I tell you what, death is the worst. Everyone goes through it, but that doesn’t make me feel better about it. One day, you’re here and the following morning, you’re gone forever. It’s all of us that remain. Myself, my sister Mariane, my brother Zachary, all my cousins, my dad and his brothers, so your five sons, and each of their better half, and then the elderly as well, those that are your age, your cousins, your brothers(-in-law) and sisters(-in-law). We all love you, so we’re all hurting today.
Here, I’ll go back to the beginning if you don’t mind—that’s what death is after all, right? Going back to the beginning. You were 81 years old, grandma. Everyone says it about everyone, but it was true in your case—you looked much younger than that, you always had. It’s only this Christmas, so in December 2013 when we all went to the cottage, that I felt like you had aged. Not a lot, just a little. I don’t say that to be mean, it’s just an observation. Over there, at the cottage, we, the cousins, all took a picture with you and grandpa. Do you remember? It’s a great photo, and as we smiled I told myself that there probably wouldn’t be that many more family pictures with all of us like this one.
Then you left, three months and two days after this photo. I wasn’t expecting it, and that’s why it hurts so bad.
It’s Saturday, March 22, so four days before your death, that I talked to you for the last time. My cellphone had dropped a call from my dad, so I called him back and it’s Zach who answered. Zach who’s turning 8 in two days. I’m sad for Zach, because he’ll only have had eight years with you. But I guess eight years is already eight more than others. So it’s Zach who answered, yeah, and I was glad to talk to him. We talked about hockey, his team is already eliminated from the playoffs, and I told him that I was still so proud of him. He told me that he was at the hospital to see you and that the entire family was there. Then, he told me that he’d give you the phone so that I could talk to you, grandma. I thanked him and said that I would call him in a week for his birthday.
Here, I’ll switch to the present tense if you don’t mind, grandma, because it’s a deeply touching scene.
You say hi and I answer. Sophie, my cousin, had warned me that it was difficult for you to speak, and it’s true. It’s obvious, you can’t hide it. Your voice is hoarse and you can’t e-nun-ci-a-te the words properly. Oh, of course I understand. I’m not criticizing, it’s just an observation again. You’re speaking as if you had a cold, or as if you were dying I guess. I say hi again, but I’m not sure that you hear me. Or that you know that it’s me. And then I hear my uncles speak in the background, they’re really more arguing than they are speaking, it’s all in good fun, and I think it’s Louis who says that, “Yeah, of course it’s Charles. Come on.” That’s the Gascon way—teasing is also loving.
“Charles!” That’s the one time your voice lightens up, it’s like I hear you smile. I say hi again, for the third time but I don’t mind, and that I’m glad to talk to you. But you don’t understand. You’re mumbling to yourself, and either you don’t hear me or your don’t understand me. Of the two, I’m not sure that I have a favourite. It’s all making me sad, but I keep talking to you. I tell you that, “I’m happy you’re with all your kids, all your family. That’s really good.” You answer something, and I think you’re saying that you’re mad this isn’t working. Now I know, you’re not talking to me. You’re talking about the phone. The phone that isn’t working. You seem confused. Tired. Sad, too. Just like me, grandma.
That’s what’s so sad. If my heart is so heavy, grandma, it’s because your heart was always so big and generous. You always gave us so much and now, we can’t give you anything anymore because you’re gone. My uncle Jean said today that you were the sun in his life. It’s true. Always radiant and beaming, grandma. But from now on and forever, nothing.
Nothing but your painting, grandma. You were an artist, once upon a time, and I’ve always been aware that there was one, two, or six of your paintings at the house of every one of my uncles. It’s a family tradition that I had always liked and when I moved in my first apartment in Toronto in 2010, I made sure to bring one of your canvasses with me. “Les alizés” is its name. Can you remember that one? It’s full of colour, blue, green, and a little bit of yellow and brown too, and it shows a house by a lake. There’s a little bridge too, and it’s a windy day. I know that, because the trees are bent sideways, to the right.
It was from one of your vacations with grandpa, you had told me. I love that painting. When my dad called me this morning to tell me you had died, it’s the first thing I did—I turned around and looked at the painting on my wall. I smiled. It’s so beautiful. Your painting. And it’s mine.