It was November 2nd, two days shy of my 25th birthday- the first birthday without two of my best friends, my boyfriend of three years, and my grandmother. My boyfriend had broken up with me two-weeks-before I had found out that my grandmother’s cancer was terminal and she had less than 3-months to live.
As I walked around the memorial service filled with my Oma’s piano students and their parents, an old friend of hers comes up to me and just grabs my hands.
“I just want you to know,” she says to me, “that your grandmother absolutely adored you. There never was a day without a Davina story.”
“Thank you,” I said, trying not to cry, “Well we were really close.”
“She could never go to sleep without saying goodnight to you,” her friend adds.
“Oh I know,” I told her, “And then we would follow-up the goodnight with an email.” She smiled and I kept walking to find another one of my Oma’s best friends, Elizabeth.
“How are you doing?” she asks me. “I’m actually fine,” I say to her, “Well I want you to know I think you flying up every weekend really helped your grandmother’s longevity.”
“It was the least I could do, and I’m so grateful my dad was willing to help with that.” I look over to see my dad chatting away with some family friends, my stepdad close by- my Oma always brought everyone together and it was beautiful to see everyone getting along. I look around the house and think of all the Christmas celebrations we once had in that living room- not once did I think it would be where we would have my Oma’s memorial service. I look at the couch where two people talking and remember the last time my Oma and I sat on that couch and discussed whether my mother should buy my aunt out and keep the house.
“I don’t want you to be tied down because of a memory,” she explained to me with her oxygen tank right beside her.
She then looked at me and said, “I think we should have an adult conversation. Please keep this between us.” I nod and she continues, “If there was a miracle would you keep the house?”
I look at her and start crying, “Yes. It is where I had my first Christmas and I would love for my children to have their first Christmas here too. I continue to reminisce and walk into my Oma’s room where I slept every weekend with her until she had to be admitted into the hospital.
“Booboo,” she would say to me, “Why are you doing this? You’re twenty-four why are you taking care of me?”
“Because Oma,”I would say to her, “You used to do puppet shows when I had my open heart surgery. Now this is my turn.”
She would always tell the story about how she knew I loved her when I was 6-months-old and was about to go into open heart surgery.
“I had a bit of a cold,” she would tell me, “So I couldn’t be too close to you. So your mom put you in the high chair by the window and I stood out in the rain and did a puppet show and you laughed and you laughed, you were the only person in the world who thought I was that hilarious and that’s how I knew you loved me.”
She would then turn over and go to sleep and I would stay up to monitor the oxygen tank. It was our chats that we would have every night that I will cherish for as long as I shall live.
“Never let anyone tell you who you are,” she would tell me. As we spoke about my break up with the man I considered the love of my life she would tell me that I had to let it go and to stop carrying all the blame he had placed on me.
“I am not in the blaming business,” she would repeat to me over and over again.
“You think I blamed The Germans for the pain they caused me? For ruining my childhood? No,” she would say. She would then proceed to tell me about how important forgiveness is. “I came back from school and out of 18 of my classmates, 9 were left,” she’d tell me.
My Oma had hidden in Holland during World War II and her family had to live off tulip bulbs in order to survive while in hiding.
“When I came back, The Jews were angry at The Germans rightfully so, but there was a little girl in my class who had no friends. No one wanted to be her friend because she was German,” she explained, “So I went up to her and said, ‘I will be your friend’. You think I was going to blame her for everyone else’s actions? She wasn’t responsible. You are not responsible for someone else’s actions, only you’re own and that is the blaming business,” she’d tell me. “And when you love,” she would go on, “you forgive. That is what love is.”
My Oma had been the master of forgiveness, especially when it came to love. When she had found out about her diagnoses, there was one person she needed to say goodbye to- my grandfather. She knew the task would be to difficult for my mother and aunt, so I was the lucky audience member. Watching her say goodbye to my grandfather was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to watch yet taught me one of the greatest lessons about what love truly is.
Love is unconditional and in the end, there is no need to prove anything you don’t have to “prove” your love to someone, they just know. Love is knowing someone’s intentions despite their mistakes it’s forgiving them because you know that whatever error they caused isn’t a reflection of who they are.
My grandmother and my grandfather had been divorced for years and yes they had hurt each other, but in their last meeting their conversation reflected the true love and respect they had for one another. She thanked him for the children he gave her, for the beautiful life they shared together and the wonderful family they created. She wasn’t angry with him and she didn’t bring up how he hurt or their past problems for they didn’t reflect how they felt about each other, they were background noise. Truth is, the kind of love that lasts forever doesn’t necessarily not end in divorce.
My Oma would tell me, “In the end I realized the reason I fought so hard for your grandfather to stay is because I wanted the family to stay together, but that is old thinking. I was in love with an illusion but I will never not love your grandfather.”
During this moment, I thought about my break up and love in my life. I won’t get into the details as to why my ex and I broke up as I don’t think it will give dignity to the wonderful three years we had together but if I were to make one thing clear, it was not because I didn’t love him and I don’t think I will ever not love him- love doesn’t die it simply evolves and you one day realize the kind of love you know you deserve.
I ended up facing this obstacle in my life on my own and at first I was angry with him- I thought how could he leave me when I need him the most? Now I thank him, for giving me this incredible opportunity. What I came to realize though is when things do get difficult in life, life isn’t testing you- it’s showing you a strength you never knew you had. Many people look back on their love lives and say because they are single, they have been unlucky in love.
Quite frankly, I consider myself to have been very fortunate when it comes to love- and it doesn’t mean I wasn’t hurt by it nor am I saying I’ve never hurt anyone who loves me. I have been in love and for that reason I believe that I have been very fortunate in the love department. However, the reason I know I have been extremely fortunate when it comes to love is the unconditional love my family has for one another, which all stemmed from my grandmother.
After the memorial service, my mother received a phone call with regards to my Oma’s house. As she is speaking on the phone I get my own phone call from an unknown number.
“Davina,” I hear, “it’s Farrah. Happy early birthday.” My cousin Farrah was calling me from Kenya to not only wish me happy birthday but she had some very important news. “The reason I am calling is because you are now turning 25 and your grandfather, your father’s father, had actually left you and your sisters a great amount of money which you are each to receive on your 25th birthday.As you are the eldest, you get it first. I forget the exact amount, but it is a significant amount which you are supposed to use for real estate.” I can hear my mother upstairs upset on the phone, knowing she would maybe have to let go of my Oma’s house.
“You can’t be serious?” I ask Farrah.
“I’m dead serious,” she says to me, “I need your account information to wire it.”
I think back to when I had to carry my Oma from the bathroom to her bedroom and she started crying.
“Oma, why are you crying?” I asked her.
“Because I know how much you love me. May the universe pay you back for all that you have done for me.” I picture Oma smiling and winking as if she and my deceased grandfather had plotted this- both worlds were coming together in a beautiful way.
We hang up and I walk upstairs to my mother who is in the living room. I can hear Oma saying to me what she had always told me, “always believe in miracles.” I go back to that conversation we had on the couch- it was a hypothetical question but now I had the option and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind on what I was going to do.
“Mom,” I say and she looks up at me, “Yes boo boo?”
“I have the money,” I say, “I can help you buy Oma’s house.”