Today, I reflect. I reflect on the appreciation I have for my family. I reflect on the opportunity I am bestowed with, to live in the neighborhood I do, and to carry on living the life I currently live. I reflect on the hardships and pain in my heart, when I look around my hometown, seeing places, foods, experiences, that remind me of my grandmother. On the morning of April 9th, 2020, my grandmother passed away. That morning I received a call from my older sister with the news. As she cried while delivering the information, that was one of the only times in my 25 years of life that I felt completely numb. Void of evoking an immediate emotion. I remember taking a long pause, then continued to repeatedly question what I just heard. It was concluded that she died in her sleep , with no illness determined. Once I finally got off the phone with my sister, I took a moment. I took a moment to close my eyes, and resurface, bit by bit, moments with my grandmother that I cherished. I slowly started to sink into that painful and gut-wrenching pit in my stomach, and an outburst of tears surged from within me. I cried for so many reasons. The most prominent reason was that I felt an insurmountable weight of guilt on my shoulders. The last time I spoke to my grandmother was December 27th, 2019, hours before my flight back to San Francisco. We had 3 separate in-person conversations while I was home for the holidays. All our conversations centered around my relationship with my mom and how my grandmother wanted peace and happiness in the family.
My grandmother will forever be the wisest, most caring woman I have had the utmost pleasure of knowing. She taught me right from wrong. She taught me to be a better person and to live by strong and just values. Her stories compelled me to understand the significance of taking care of myself, and to find strength from within to conquer any battles that stand in my way. Her guidance, and unwavering love, even when I would want to lash out, is THE reason that I am the woman I am today. She believed in the good of everyone. She taught me how to cook, do laundry, and clean the house. She educated me and my siblings about preserving our eyesight when we were young, and would make fresh carrot juice for us every day after school. She loved jewelry, so I would make it a point to gift her with a pair of earrings, a necklace, or a bracelet, in combination with whatever else I gifted her, and continued that tradition even when I moved to San Francisco. I kept her in mind as I traveled the world, and brought her back personalized gifts from my adventures in Spain, France, and Fiji. She taught me how to crochet blankets and scarves. She loved to sew, and along with mending every school uniform I ever wore, she sewed me custom pajamas, and even created and styled clothes for the community. Another vivid memory I have is writing about her in my 3rd grade binder project. I wrote, “My grandma, Cecilia Ezeokwelume, is a very special person who loves me very much. We like to do things that show how much we love each other. My grandma makes blankets and dresses for me. She sews fancy dresses, night gowns, and blankets with designs. After my grandma makes dresses for me, we play dress up. I make cookies for my grandma. I make chocolate chip cookies and sugar cookies in my real-meal oven. I enjoy being with my grandma because she is a special person to me.” At the young age of 9, I was aware of our strong bond. We share a name (her first name is my middle name), which will always remind me that I am connected to her.
She taught me all the catholic prayers I know to this day. She instilled in me, the importance of trusting my faith, which is a point I want to emphasize. Throughout my childhood, I always believed in God, but I came to learn that I was going through the motions of going to a private, catholic school from kindergarten through 12th grade, under parental supervision. Once I went to college, I never stepped foot into church or attended church service while studying at USF, and only went during school breaks and holiday when I was home. I felt that once I got older, I was becoming more distant with religion and my faith, and without my parents ordering me to attend, I would not willingly attend on my own. A few years after college, when I would visit home, I would sit with my grandmother and we would pray. We would pray for guidance, and for God to protect us and our loved ones. We prayed for good health and prosperity. It was then when I ever-so believed that my grandmother had the power to reconnect me with my faith in a genuine and inspiring fashion. She taught me the true meaning of what faith is, and why I should believe in its power. December 2019 was the last chance I got with her. Even though she is gone, I believe that I am forever connected with her through faith. She is watching over me and my family. She has loved me all my life. She called me regularly while I was studying at USF. She would leave me voicemails throughout the year, and never forgot to call me on my birthday. She always had the best intentions. At 86 years old, she lived a full and fruitful life. She is the biggest reason for me to want to succeed. She celebrated all my momentous achievements. At 83 years old, she got on a plane to San Francisco to witness me graduate college. I strive for greatness in her name.
So, I return attention to this very moment. The present day. I went home for the first time in June 2020. This is the first time I am in my hometown, without my grandmother. Walking into the house I grew up in as a child, and walking by her room, I was filled with deep sadness all over again. I was engulfed in emotion. I sat on her bed, read excerpts of her bible, and held her Rosaries tightly in my palm. My brain flooded with thoughts of the inevitable truth: she is really gone. I did not get to say goodbye. I am pained by that fact, but what has been illuminated by being home, is how thankful I am to have grown up here. This time has allowed me to settle into the mental reset my brain is performing. This time has allowed me to unlock a peaceful compartment of my mind, where my grandma will always reside. I am thankful to have lived my life up to this point with her. Here is where she will always be. Home is where she is with me. The memories of her will never dissipate. As I carry on every day, I am rejuvenated by the lessons and advice she would share with me. I carry her heart in my hands. I look around my hometown and I feel her presence. Her presence will forever live on. On June 20th, all 5 of my siblings were under one roof. We got together to celebrate graduation for my little brother Junior and my little sister UK. In the midst of the celebration, we all took time to think about our grandmother.
The woman who invigorated our lives the second each of us were born. The woman that sacrificed everything in order to take care of our family. Even when we have family squabbles, that day allowed me to understand that those conflicts are largely insignificant in comparison to the love that surrounds us. This moment in time we shared meant the world to me. As we all leave and go back to our respective places, we will cherish this moment in time, and remember that our grandmother loves us deeply and will always watch over us. Dear Grandma: thank you for being my guiding light. Thank you for being my protector. Thank you for exemplifying strong and just values. Thank you for raising me to be the strong woman I am today. Thank you for loving me, wholeheartedly and unconditionally. I am so proud to know you. My life is so richly blessed because I had you in it. I love you beyond measure, my wonderful grandma.