on friday, my titu stepped into a well-earned place in eternity. the impact she had on my life cannot be overstated. i immediately turned to one of my most comforting outlets–writing–to process all i was feeling after days of holding 24-hr vigil by her side in shifts with family. this is part of what i wrote the night she died, some of which was shared at her her memorial service yesterday.
it’s nearly impossible to know me and not know about my titu.* she was such an integral part of our family and an important relationship in my life that you only have to be casually acquainted with me to have heard of her. if you are from my hometown and have met my family, you’ve probably met her.
and if you’ve met her, you adore her. instantly. love flowed freely and unconditionally from her heart–you felt enveloped in it the moment you entered her presence. her care was so genuine and affectionate, her words so uplifting and sugary sweet, her generosity so selfless and excessive, that it was at times overwhelming. when you were with her, you felt like the most special person on earth.
i’ll always remember her extravagant greetings to me. every time i would call, she would say repeatedly, “you sound so good to me!” and when i would walk in her room for a visit she would exclaim, “oh, it’s too good to be true!”
growing up, my siblings and i were fortunate enough to live close by and spend abundant time with her. we were the envy of our out-of-town cousins. most of my childhood and teenage memories include her, because she was just as involved in my upbringing and extracurricular activities and accomplishments as my parents.
my friends all adopted her as their own and called her “titu” as well. she lived with my family for the last 15 years, first in her house while we were building, then in her own suite attached to the new house. after i moved out, we talked nearly every day on the phone, and i looked forward to sleepovers in her room when i came home from college for visits.
she was the true matriarch of our family, fusing together her children and grandchildren (“titu’s troops”) like super glue. she instilled a high value for family in her brood, a priority which was passed from her parents–the legacy runs deep and strong. for many, many years, she and her nine siblings committed to gather each year near their childhood home on the east coast to walk the boards in ocean city and generally have a raucous and memorable time.
she turned 93 in april of this year. and then again in may ;). (yes, she celebrated two birthdays. she was clever like that.) she maintained good physical health into her late 80s and fantastic mental clarity until in the last months when low oxygen levels caused intermittent fogginess. and even then, when she was on, she was on! she had the gift of gab, an impeccable memory, and a sharp sense of humor. conversations with her were never dull.
she reminded me so much of my mom (although it’s probably more accurate to say it the other way around). they both had an extra-special quality that left an unforgettable impression. i know it seems far-fetched for me to speak about both my mother and grandmother in such superlative terms, but it’s the truth. friends and family can back me up on this one.
i’ve clung to the shadows of my mom i recognized in titu for the last three years. it’s been especially difficult for me to process the déjà vu of witnessing a slow decline in health in someone i love so deeply. and the burden i feel to step up and carry on where they left off is heavy. they’ve left a rather vast swath of positive influence and i’m feeling quite unqualified to fill in. i pray and trust that in time God will cultivate the pieces of them buried inside me.
last week stephen colbert’s 92-yr-old mother died, and he gave a touching tribute to her at the top of his show. his words conveyed precisely how i feel about my titu:
“I know it may sound greedy to want more days with a person who lived so long. But the fact that my mother was 92 does not diminish, it only magnifies, the enormity of the room whose door has now quietly shut.”
*if you’re just tuning in, “titu” is lebanese for “grandmother.” except that it’s not the proper word; it’s more like a custom spelling of a slang derivation of an informal variation of the word.