On the afternoon of Wednesday, 18 June my phone rang. It was my birth-mother. Considering that we usually only communicate by text messages, I knew the reason for her call had to be important. I wasn’t wrong. She was calling to tell me that my grandmother had passed away peacefully that morning. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease while in her eighties, this old lady had lived to the magnificent age of 96.
Although I only met her once, she touched a special place in my heart, and the single memory I have of her I will cherish forever. I was very saddened at the news of her passing. I wrote about our meeting in my book, Someone’s Daughter, an edited excerpt of which I publish here, as a final tribute to her…
We met at a delightful tea garden in Durban. I was extremely apprehensive before the meeting. Irene [not her real name] had shown me a photo of my grandmother at our reunion. It was a family group shot, in which she looked very serious. As this was all that I had to go on, I perceived her to be very stern, so I was very wary of what she would be like in person.
We arrived at the tea garden and spotted Irene and her daughter sitting at a table. My grandmother was seated with her back towards us. As we approached, I fixed a friendly smile on my face, but my heart was beating wildly. I greeted Irene and my half-sister with a hug, then turned to look at my grandmother.
As our eyes met, all my misgivings instantly melted away. I felt an immediate connection with her and hugged her warmly without reservation. She was nothing like the sombre person I had prepared myself for. She was beautiful and gentle and loving.
I sat down next to her. As the waiter took our orders, I felt her eyes on me, staring at me intently, as if she wanted to take in every feature on my face. I chatted away to the others, seemingly oblivious to my grandmother’s appraisal.
What is she thinking? Is she remembering the day I was born, or the hour she and her daughter spent with me before they took me away? Perhaps she’s looking for a family resemblance, and it’s taking her so long because she can’t find one.
Unable to ignore her scrutiny any longer, I turned to her and smiled. She spoke, and her words revealed instantly what was uppermost in her mind: “Please don’t be angry with Irene,” she pleased. “We had no money. If her father were still alive when you were born, things would have been different, and we would certainly have kept you.”
I placed my hand on her arm and looked straight at her.
“I am not angry. If I were, I wouldn’t be here today. Everything is fine between Irene and me. Please, don’t worry about it anymore.”
I wasn’t sure if I had convinced her, so I decided to change the subject a little. I was eager to hear her version about my birth.
“Please, tell me everything you can remember about the time I was born.”
She responded without hesitation: “Oh, my dear, I can’t do that. I can’t remember anything these days. I have… Irene, what do I have?
“That’s right; I have Alzheimer’s. I can’t even remember when it’s time for lunch.”
I had no idea how to respond to this. Perhaps it was safer not to pursue the matter. I waited for the others to turn the conversation to general matters.
All through the afternoon, I was acutely aware that my grandmother could not take her eyes off me. She asked me over and over to forgive her. I tried to reassure her each time that she had no need for forgiveness, but I don’t know whether I managed to convince her.
Eventually, it was time to go, and we all hugged one another goodbye. I felt a terrible sadness when I hugged my grandmother and felt close to tears. I didn’t know when, or if I would ever see her again.
Rest peacefully, beautiful lady.