Dear Grandma:


Dear Grandma:

It’s been two years, and I guess I need to talk to you. Merry Christmas is hard to pronounce, because you left on Christmas Eve.

I remember what your house looked like every Christmastime. I remember you had Mrs. Claus sitting on a child-sized rocking chair and you always had tons of ornaments on your tree. You made a lot of them decades past; I really wish we had gotten better photos of the masterpiece that was your Christmas tree.

It’s been two years since you went to Heaven and I’ve learned that time does not, in fact, heal. It gives you opportunities to find distractions; you pick up new hobbies and responsibilities. You seek the same sort of comfort in other people, but no one hugs like you did, and no one smells like you did.

One summer we were in your basement. You asked me, “Would you ever consider visiting my church?” Because you are Mormon and I have been Catholic since I was eleven. I didn’t know what to say at the time; I didn’t want to get into a religious discussion with my grandma. “I’ll consider it,” I promised you, and though you might have wanted some more enthusiasm, you didn’t press the subject.

When you died, I decided I wanted to keep that promise. I didn’t expect I’d be keeping that promise I made to you while you were in your casket, but I’m sure you were in the same room. I told a story my cousins must have been familiar with. I spoke of how you loved the autumn leaves as they changed with the seasons. I reminded my cousins of how you would point them out every time you drove us somewhere in October.

I spoke to distant family and friends from your church who probably didn’t know this side of you, about how you were an artist. You would pull up in your white Dodge Durango, all dressed up to visit the craft store. One time you accidentally pulled up to get us when I had arranged to go somewhere else with a friend, so you and I agreed to go out again some other time. I regret that decision; I will always regret it.

I spoke a eulogy as a granddaughter, and though I had never done any form of public speaking previously, people said that it was moving. Many asked me to send them the transcript. It was the last thing I could do for you on earth: remind people of how you loved.

Two years later, Christmas isn’t the same. You left us on the morning of Christmas Eve, forever making yourself a part of the Christmas spirit, but we are human and our hearts are still broken. Last year we did not put up a Christmas tree; this year we have a small one, but your house has been taken by another family, and we are utterly alone in this city.

My brother snapped a candid shot of a time you spontaneously decided to teach me to make chocolate chip cookies. You were wearing a cheetah-print blouse and I was paying attention. I didn’t know at the time how desperately I would want that moment back, and I am grateful to Christian for preserving that moment.

One time you were speaking of someone you knew who had gotten engaged, and seeing that I looked melancholy, gave me advice about relationships. “You’ll have one one day,” you said, referring to a wedding announcement. “Men aren’t as aggressive with their feelings.” Whether that’s true or not, your care for how I felt on the subject still serves as a balm.

One time I asked you if Grandpa would be proud of us. It had been over ten years since his death, and you knew him better than anyone else, while I only have flashes of important moments spent with him. “Oh,” you said, nearly breaking down, “he would be so proud of you.” You then walked away, as if to cry somewhere.

I remember being a young child, cuddled up against you while you read out loud from Peter Rabbit. I remember the feel of the couch beneath us, the smell of your laundry detergent, and the illustrations from the book. Then I would want you to read me another book, and you’d wait patiently as I chose a children’s book from your cupboard. It smelled like the library I would one day have. When you died, I kept that copy of Peter Rabbit for myself.

A snippet of a conversation between you and Grandpa lingers in my mind regarding the grandfather clock we inherited from you. He was staring at the pendulum as it went back and forth, admiring how the entire living room could be seen on its face. “Colleen,” he told you, “take a photo of that.” “The flash would ruin it,” you replied. “Paint it,” he said.

There are moments that the four of us feel lost in the world without you. We haven’t gone to your favorite restaurant, Casa Mexico, since then; I don’t think we ever will. We can’t drive by your house.

I always dream of your house, you know. I dream of going inside and everything being where it should be, including the grandfather clock now ticking away in my living room. In my mind, that will always be our family’s house.

“You’re still grieving?” some might ask. “That was a long time ago.” Or, “She’s in Heaven!” Or, “Find a hobby.”

Certain friends could not understand that grief causes change in behavior, priorities, and mindset. I don’t miss them. If they couldn’t stand by me while I grieved, they weren’t really friends.

Grandma Colleen, the thing I remember most about you is how the only thing you remembered to say in your final months was “I love you.” You took that love with you, and I can picture you looking back at us at the gates to Heaven in order to say “I love you” one last time.

I don’t know the point of this post. I’m not sure you can read it. I suppose I want everyone to know for Christmas what a great grandmother you are.

You left a void in all of us. I’m sorry we can’t fill it; I don’t mean to guilt you. We miss you and we always will.

Christmas is about Jesus…but it’s also about you. It always will be.

I love you.

-Mariella

Waiting at the Manger


Last night we made a small pilgrimage to our church, where there is a Nativity scene. Baby Jesus is not there yet; according to tradition, He will be placed in the manger on Christmas Eve. In our house we have a small Nativity scene where Baby Jesus is covered up; He will be revealed on Christmas Eve.

Friends, it has been a year to test all of us; enough has happened to chip away at the faith of the most pious person. We cannot let fear steal away our joy of the holidays. We cannot let fear steal away our joy.

I’m not a theologian. I am a storyteller. Long ago, when I was baptized, I knew Jesus had sent us all out to tell the greatest story of them all: the story of how He came to save us from eternal grief. My short posts on lives of the Saints at Write Catholic are only the result of the first chapter.

What is the first chapter? Is it not when the Creator descended as a babe, helpless in the arms of His Mother, surrounded by the animals blessed to adore Him–already rejected, because there was no room for Him at the inn?

2021 is a good time to erase fear from the inns of our hearts and make space for the gifts that Jesus brought us. In 2020 we were all afraid, and we had reason to be; in 2020, many people lost loved ones and had their lives changed forever.

St. John Paul II’s handwriting encourages us to remember the 365 times that the Bible tells us not to be afraid. Anyone who knows of St. John Paul II’s life can agree that he saw fear; he felt it; he wept when he lost his friends, he must have been frustrated when Parkinson’s debilitated him, and there must have been times when he asked God Why?

He had a purpose, though, and God never gives us more than we can handle. You have a purpose, too; so do I. In 2021, I will follow the words of St. John Paul II and pray for the grace to stand steady in the face of a shifting world.

As survivors of 2020, what might our purpose be? Here are some ideas off of the top of my head:

  • Comfort the mourning. You probably know somebody who lost a friend or family member to COVID; send them a card in the mail and reassure them of your prayer and friendship.
  • Exercise your faith. Like a muscle, faith needs to be put into action daily. Read the Bible or a devotional; sit in silence and wait for the soft voice in your heart to give you instructions.
  • Pray the Rosary. Our Lady gave us the Rosary with the promise that this Sacramental would save the world. She told the children at Fatima that it should be prayed every day. I have made this a practice, and it brings me peace I cannot describe with human words.
  • Count your blessings. A dear friend encouraged me to write my small blessings in a gratitude journal. Be grateful for your breakfast in the morning; be grateful for that line in a song you really love. The more you practice gratitude, the more grateful you will be.
  • Tell someone about Jesus. I can assure you that, in the chaos of 2020, many people have forgotten about Jesus and what He did for us. Tell one person about Jesus this year; remind them that we have not been forgotten, and that we look forward to a better world.
  • Practice charity. Whether it’s donating to a food bank or being kind to someone you do not know, those five dollars might buy a meal–a kind sentence might be the only kindness someone encounters in an entire day. Love covers a multitude of sins–and heals a multitude of hurts.

We are a people of joy, not fear.

Christmas is nearly upon us; I can feel in my bones that we Christians have extra work to do in 2021. Raise the hashtag #2021BeNotAfraid. Seek the positive, the reminders of God in the world. Tell people why you still have hope.

My part in all of this? I am a writer. I can use words to get messages across. I am more than a fiction writer. My interests are in more than fantasy and historical fiction. It is my vocation to keep telling the greatest story in the world.

I believe this is my purpose. Sit down for a while now and ask God…what is yours?