“Granny!” she would shriek as she leaped with abandon into what she trustingly assumed would be my waiting embrace. Her eyes would shine with joy as she anticipated playtime, Granny-style. We would collapse on the floor, surrounded by dolls and other such girlish accoutrements.
Sometimes I got to be the Mommy and she the Daddy, and when she grew tired of parenthood, she would dump her “children” in a box, and we’d dance to the rhythm of Old McDonald, joined by her two brothers (one of whom was her twin). Sibling rivalry would fade into the background as story time began.
Could there be any greater joy?
My beloved granddaughter, Tal (affectionately called Tali) was just four years old when she died on Aug. 26, 2007. A stunningly beautiful child, she exuded both childlike joy and astounding maturity throughout the ten months of her suffering. Diagnosed at age three with a rare form of brain cancer, her chances of survival were slim. Nevertheless — as she endured the unspeakable horrors of chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation — we convinced ourselves that she would beat the odds.
There was simply no other way to think.
With heartwarming compassion, the oncologists devised an aggressive treatment regime involving chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation and would require Tali to be hospitalized for the better part of six months. Since stem cell transplantation carried with it a significant risk of infection (due to the immune system being severely compromised by the treatment), only Tali’s parents were allowed in — one at a time. If one parent wasn’t well, I became the overnight alternate.
After sanitizing everything and anything in my possession, I would peek in — only to be greeted with an excited “Granny!” — sending my heart soaring to the moon. When she displayed typical 3-year-old silliness, my heart would dance with happiness, and when she was ready for sleep my heart, would melt as she lay quietly, her huge dark eyes locked with mine as I sang to her.
From this child — not yet four — I learned about the capacity of the human psyche to experience joy — and yes, to laugh — even amid unimaginable circumstances.
Discharged home after the last cycle of treatment, she flourished, quickly gaining weight and looking healthy and robust. We dared to be cautiously optimistic, but soon after her fourth birthday came the catastrophic news of a relapse from which she would not recover.
It was unfathomable to imagine a world without this remarkable child.
Words couldn’t possibly capture the depth and breadth of our grief.
Her devastated and devoted parents cared for her at home, where I, too, stayed day and night, terrified to leave. I remember singing “You Are My Sunshine” to her…until I reached “Please don’t take my sunshine away.” I could not go on.
She died two days later.
As I tried to articulate my sorrow, I found myself trying to brush aside my grief, since t was a mere drop in the vast ocean of suffocating agony into which her parents had been plunged. Of what importance could my grief be when the parents were facing a future forever darkened by this inconceivable loss?
Yet I could not ignore the screaming voice inside of me, and I had to keep reminding myself that loss cannot be measured — that my pain, although markedly different than that of Tali’s parents — was real.
Six years have passed since Tali’s death. Time gradually softened the edges of my grief, allowing me to remember with loving tenderness precious moments we had shared — how she would give me Dora stickers for ‘good behavior,’ make up nonsense syllables or declare her love for me (arms outstretched to show me just how much). She loved “chicken muggets” and “pupcakes” but needed “mapkins” to clean her face. She offered adult-like encouragement when I exaggerated my struggle to master a task (“Good job, Granny!” or “I know you can do it, Granny!”). And she was so proud of her very long string of ‘bravery beads ’ — one for each painful and frightening procedure she endured.
Tali’s surviving twin is now 10 years old. His parents, who never stop grieving for their little girl, must make his birthdays special for him, while simultaneously taking time to remember Tali. And so, each year the family gets together to carry out a ritual in which we write messages to Tali, paste them onto helium balloons and release the balloons to drift towards the sky.
Tali’s twin never lets us see what he has written.
— Adele Gould
Originally from South Africa, Adele Gould is a retired social worker who’s passionate about writing. Her blog includes several pieces that have been published in the Globe and Mail in Canada. Adele and her second husband, together 27 years, have eight children and four grandchildren between them. Besides a writer, she’s a woodcarver, avid photographer and volunteer.