My grandmother turned 100 years old on Saturday, April 4th. Isn’t that incredible? The number of history-altering events that she has seen in her lifetime is staggering: the Great Depression, World War II and other U.S.-involved conflicts, assassinations of leaders, political elections and scandals, technological innovation. As the population of the world has grown, the distance between people has become less relevant with an increasing number of ways to keep connected.
My dad and his family began a habit of emails long ago. If I had to guess, somewhere around the year 1999. The emails would be every few days and the writer would recap what was going on in his/her life for the group. As children grew older, they were invited to join the family email group beginning in college so my inclusion began around 2002.
Both of my dad’s parents would write, even as my grandpa’s Parkinson’s disease progressed, making typing more difficult. He passed away in 2011 and my grandma continued to correspond with us until it became too hard for her. We set her up with a printer that would automatically print new emails she received so that she could read them without needing to go into Outlook.
Now, at 100 years old, she lives in a memory care unit. The facility went into lockdown weeks ago as COVID-19 spread, in order to keep the residents safe. My family that lives near her paraded outside of her window with signs, waving and wishing her a happy birthday, and inside she had a birthday party with the other residents. True to her good humor, she commented “I should do this more often.”
As I thought back on many memories I have with my grandma, I remembered one email that she sent in particular. It was in 2008, after my first pregnancy had ended. I had ended up in the emergency room with significant pain, thinking that I had appendicitis, but a test determined that I was pregnant. I had been bleeding for days and thought it was a rough period, but instead it was the beginning of the end of my pregnancy. The doctor believed that the pain was because it was an ectopic pregnancy, but because it was so early, this could not be confirmed via ultrasound. Instead, I was given medication that would finish what had already begun to happen.
I wrote an email to my family, voicing my devastation. Ger and I had wanted to start a family and it was a gut-punch to have this happen. My grandma wrote back directly to me:
Dear Anna (and Ger),
Mentally I am projecting a hug to you. My arms are around you and I am sharing your sorrow and your worry at this unwanted turn of events. Getting pregnant should be a time of joy but sometimes our bodies aren’t able to handle this new event.
I took a lot of medical courses in college and learned that the body is often wise in how it handles things when they could go wrong. I believe that it was telling you, with the pain on Saturday, that the potential fetus was not in the proper place for normal growth and that it needed help to deal with the problem. I hope you have a skilled and compassionate OB-GYN who will guide you through the healing process…. both physically and mentally.
One other thing that I learned in those far away days was that it is very common to miscarry a first pregnancy but that the couple go on to have many healthy babies later on. It is as if the body has to learn how to handle the new condition. I am glad that you have a supportive husband. Take care of yourself this week. Think positive thoughts. Soon you will heal and one of these days I will be receiving a joyous birth announcement.
I love you very much…. Grandma
Her sentiment that “this pregnancy wasn’t meant to be” echoed what the OBGYN had told me, and what I knew was true in my heart. Hearing it from my grandma was more comforting than the clinical way in which I had heard this a few days prior, from a doctor I had never previously met.
The letter also very much reflected my grandma. She never shied away from any topic. While many people in her generation may have considered pregnancy loss to be taboo, she was clear in acknowledging what was going on – both from a physical and emotional perspective.
I have kept a printed copy of that email all these years.