So, I’ve never been much for personal writing. Essays and reports are fine; touchy feely stuff not so much.
Now, my grandmother is dying, with enough respiratory involvement that she can’t really talk on the phone, and she’s on the other side of the country; and it has become known that she would enjoy receiving mail.
I’m not sure what to do. I don’t want to just do nothing; but words fail me for this purpose.
I’m so sorry your grandmother is ill. That’s sad news to hear.
It’s not quite the same thing, but I used to have a friend living in Korea back in the 90s and we’d write back and forth. I’d fill him in on what’s happening in my life, in our town, with our friends, ask him questions about Korea, etc.
I’d go with something similar - tell her what’s happening with your work, family, etc. But more importantly, ask her about her life. It would be a wonderful thing for you and the family to have a written record of her life (if she’s up to doing that - I don’t know how bad off she feels and she may not feel like writing/typing a long letter?). You could maybe do a notebook to share? Get a cheap notebook, fill in the first page and send it on to her. Then she does round 2, sends it back. Those can be short, notes about whatever you’d like. Or you can send pictures (physical pictures) back and forth. One of my nieces got one of these new instant cameras (I can’t remember who makes them - maybe it’s a polaroid, I can’t remember). You could buy 2 and send one to your grandmother along with the pics from yours?
I know it can be hard to write out feelings, but I think once you get into the groove of it, you’ll do fine. There are tons of options for sending along mail that she’ll enjoy (and you will too).
That’s just my $.02, so I hope that helps you out some. I know an illness like this can be hard to deal with, especially when you’re so far away from the sick person. But you do what you can from where you are and that will help, I think.
Perhaps write about a special interaction or experience you had with her. No exposition or touchy-feely necessary. She’ll be glad to remember it and to know that it meant enough to you, that you remembered it too.
If I was in your shoes, I’d probably be at a loss for words too. Just don’t put off writing for too long, print out some cartoons she might like, take a couple of pictures and send her a hug.
Send her a self addressed stamped envelope so she can reply without it being a big deal.
Just let her know you care.
That sucks, I really feel for you. When my maternal grandmother passed, cancer had spread to her brain and she wasn’t lucid enough to really talk or receive letters. She did have bouts of lucidity, like when my mother caught her being incredulous at Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming governor of California on television, but they were too few and too unpredictable to take advantage of. I don’t know why I’m mentioning this except that I always felt like I was never close enough to my grandmother, and not for lack of love. But when I think about the things I’d have said, I realize I wouldn’t have tried to get to know her better or squeak out some family history. That wasn’t the time. She was in pain and I’d probably have sought to just talk to her about stuff. Stuff that happens in my life. Amusing anecdotes. Just try to take her mind off things.
I might focus on that, rather than trying to resolve what you’re feeling into words. You don’t have to dwell on anything deep, but you don’t have to be overly cheery, either. If you decide that there’s something that needs saying, then you should say it, absolutely. I think you’ll find that once you start off by writing the newsy stuff the rest kind of comes naturally.
I’m sorry you have to go through this. I wish you the best of luck in your letter writing. And take all our advice with a grain of salt. If it feels right, do it. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t. Just don’t overthink it.
When my grandmother was dying, I flew to see her one last time. I spent the entire flight trying to think of what to say. I had nothing. What I ended up saying was “I wanted to come see you, to tell you that I love you.”
It was enough. She asked me to rub her cramping leg, and I did, until she fell asleep. It was enough.
You don’t have to say something profound. You could even send picture postcards of where you live, with simple notes. Draw a picture, if that’s your style. Don’t beat yourself up, just tell her you love her in whatever way you can.
When my grandmother finally went it was a bit of a blessing. She hung on forever and the only people she could recognize or would interact with were my parents and my niece. When I had the chance to visit that summer (1800 miles) we were told not to be surprised if the EMTs were parked outside when we got back from our outings. Even if I had wanted to say anything to her she wouldn’t have known. It sucked majorly but brought a lot of relief to the family afterwards as it was months of round the clock care.
So send some email with pics attached if there is no way you can manage a visit. Maybe a short video of yourself.
I second the postcard idea. Keep it short, light and chattily normal. If there’s pressure you’re putting on yourself to make it meaningful, like “great words”, anything you write will probably fall far short of your self-imposed expectations. So just anything is way better than nothing. Tell here where you went out for dinner recently, how the plants in your back yard are growing, tell her you love her, that sort of thing.
I’m not really best placed to offer advice about how to people and I’m terrible at following my own advice, but I know a lot about self-imposed pressure and non-specific guilt, so I hope this helps. I spent a lot of time with my gran as she was dieing, mostly talking about football (she was an avid fan). I think it helped her forget hospitals for a bit and feel like a person.
I’m also very sorry for what you’re going through. Others have offered some great suggestions here. They’re probably better than mine, but here it is anyway.
If you have a friend or, even better, a family member, you can talk to then do that and record it. Or just imagine you’re talking to your grandmother and record that. Then transcribe it.
The advantage of talking to a family member is it can also be an opportunity to record some family history. You may even find yourself telling multiple stories that can become more than one letter. It doesn’t matter if they’re family stories she knows. The fact that you remember them is what matters.
I’ve gotten a lot of help with writing letters from this book: How To Say It : Choice Words, Phrases, Sentences, and Paragraphs for Every Situation
by Rosalie Maggio https://www.amazon.com/How-Say-Rosalie-Maggio/dp/B002XULXCE (I have an earlier edition) The author explains when and why to write specific kinds of letters, also what to avoid saying in various situations. There are collections of words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs for each type of letter, that can give you ideas of what’s appropriate, that can greatly increase your confidence writing, and can save you a lot of time and mental anguish about doing it.
There’s lots of good advice in this thread so far, I’d say. I second @tachin1 above, “Just don’t put off writing for too long”.
I would consider whether “receiving mail” means that you necessarily have to produce something touchy feely.
I’d suggest sending something very brief, right away. You could buy a nice greeting card that has a picture you think she might enjoy looking at. If it’s a blank card, write only a line or two inside. If it’s a pre-printed card (like a “Thinking of You” card that has a verse or a few lines on the inside) make sure that what’s already there is appropriate, and just be sure to add at least one sentence in your own handwriting. You don’t have to be newsy. For something to say, you can even just refer to sending the card itself, like: Hi Grandma, I wanted to be sure you know I’m thinking of you, and thought you might enjoy the picture on this card. Love, fuzzyfungus.
Again, sooner is better, and make it brief.
That can serve as a warmup, an ice-breaker, and you can follow up later with something more as you feel up to it.
If you’re never able to write the touchy-feely/newsy/longer things you may be thinking you should, or if Fate somehow intervenes for your grandmother sooner than expected, she did receive mail from you and she knew you cared.
Thanks for your kind suggestions, they’ve given me some options to think about. Unfortunately, I can’t really talk about how things are going here; because ‘major depression and recent transition to unemployment’ are both a total downer and really boring.
I’m going to hit Microcenter in the morning, and see if they have any relatively foolproof audio playback devices(like the old portable tape recorder of yore; but actually for sale). I’m not sure I can get something in writing without a narrative structure; but hopefully I’ll be able to muse about the various facets of memory that her presence in my life bring to mind without totally rambling.
Given the prognosis, I can’t afford to overthink this; but I don’t want to half-ass it. “Sorry about the terminal cancer, here’s a Hallmark card” is cold as hell.
Do you paint or sketch? Or are even remotely that way inclined? Amazon sells thick paper for watercolour (and for other media) pre-cut and printed on the back ready for adresses.
It’s less cold than Hallmark crap and can be a nice and quick way of getting a very personal message across while you do the important writing stuff.
Might not be your thang, but putting it out there anyway.
Then we didn’t do very well in explaining the idea behind sending a card.
Not cold. It would be a kindness for your grandmother to receive a quick note from you while the writing task you’ve set for yourself comes to fruition. That’s where cards can come in. You don’t have to use one, but it’s an easy and acceptable way to get something in the mail to her pronto. You don’t have to mention the cancer. Just send your love. Then get down to the writing project or whatever.
And you’ll feel better once you get something in the mail, so it would be a kindness to yourself as well, to send a brief note or card right away, if you haven’t done the writing project already (it’s a couple days later now as I’m writing this). Knowing that she has received something from you already, can take some of the pressure off and help make writing out your memories or whatever you choose a lot more enjoyable for you.
(Oh and yeah, I probably wouldn’t send an actual Hallmark card myself, but there are better cards out there, for sure. No matter what you think of the greeting card industry, they do have their uses.)
Anyway, good luck with everything. I’m sorry about your grandmother, and sorry you have a major depression and loss of employment to negotiate too.
Thanks for the help and suggestions. It’s a difficult time, so it’s nice to have people to consult with; even if they only know me as someone who impersonates a fungus on the internet.
I ended up recording a message, loaded it on a simple MP3 player connected to a speaker(I’m sure devices with integrated speakers exist; but I needed something retail, on short notice, so I didn’t get what I wanted); charged everything up so that nobody would have to hassle with it on their end; and all I can do is hope that it helps in some small way.
I didn’t really have anything specific to say; just reminisced about times I remembered when she was visiting us, or we her; and various other bits and pieces that came to mind when thinking about her presence in my life.
Really, aside from the hope that she will be as comfortable as possible under the circumstances, what else can I say in the face of death?
Well, that’s it. They tell me that my recording arrived while she was still reasonably lucid(she hasn’t been able to speak; and the drugs for serious pain management obviously make you a bit fuzzy, so it’s hard to gauge with precision); she declined rapidly over the course of the next day or so, and died.
Hopefully she in fact was able to understand it; and that it was of some comfort; impossible to say for certain.
You guys helped me get through making the recording, and it turned out to be pretty time sensitive, so thanks for that.