Memories of my grandmother keep replaying in my mind. What are they trying to tell me?
My grandmother passed away four days before Christmas in 2016. I was making cookies and wrapping presents with my family when my mom got the phone call. Her face changed and I could tell something was really wrong.
Ever since then, I’ve always remembered small conversations and little trips that I took with my grandmother — like going to McDonald's and playing in the play area and just laughing until our stomachs hurt.
Or in the summer, my brothers and I would go see her at her apartment building, and she’d take us swimming in the pool outside. Sometimes, we’d go shopping first. She’d say, “Taelynn, get ready, ‘cause we’re about to go shopping. We’re about to get pool floaties. If you want a bathing suit we can get one.” And then she’d let us swim all day long.
A favorite snapshot shows Taelynn Lassiter's grandmother and father embracing. [Taelynn Lassiter]
That’s how she was: Fun. She always had crazy colored hair — red or blue or purple — and a smile on her face. She had an aura of happiness that made me feel like I could tell her anything.
It’s been more than five years since she died, and memories of her still play in my mind. What makes those memories return again and again? And why do they feel so important?
I interviewed my guidance counselor, Ms. Meintel, to see on a professional level why certain memories stick with us when loved ones pass away. She told me she thinks a lot about the last time she saw her grandfather, at Christmas.
"He lived in South Carolina," Ms. Meintel told me. "So I feel like it was a really good memory because we were able to celebrate a last Christmas with him and he was able to see my kids."
I asked why she thought memories like that stick with us so long.
She thought for a moment.
"I have a very hard time with grief," Ms. Meintel said. "So I like to latch on to those older memories and the memories when you're happiest. It makes me forget [people] are actually gone. I can relive those memories and think of happy times over remembering really sad things."
I can see where she’s coming from. Everybody has their own way of dealing with family members dying.
But for me, when I pretended my grandmother wasn’t actually gone, or tried not to think about it, I wasn’t a person she would’ve been proud of.
After she died, I focused on taking care of other people, like my dad and my brothers, and I didn’t take care of myself.
That’s why I wanted to do this story, and why I started going to therapy a few months ago. I wanted to think about her more.
A message of pride
My math teacher, Ms. Kisner, helped me understand all this a little better.
She recently lost her mother, and at first I didn’t want to talk to her about it because I know how hard it is to lose someone. But she opened right up about the last time she saw her mom.
It was right after Ms. Kisner had organized a big event with tons of powerful people.
"And it went really well, and I actually went to visit my mom in rehab to tell her about it," Ms. Kisner said. "And she just kept smiling and smiling and smiling. And she looked at me and she was like, ‘Wow, you never know who you're giving birth to.’"
That reminded me of the last conversation I remember having with my grandmother, a few days before she died.
Taelynn Lassiter, left, stands outside Richmond Heights Secondary School with her friend Kyla Bowling. [Keith Freund / Ideastream Public Media]]
I had recently sung in a Christmas concert at school, and my dad sent a recording to her. I was really shy back then. I hated even talking to people I didn’t know.
My grandmother told me she was really proud of me for getting out of my comfort zone and being in the concert. It felt so good to hear her say that.
I hope I always remember that conversation, because I want to keep making my grandmother proud.
Taelynn Lassiter is a 10th grader at Richmond Heights Secondary School. She produced this story with Ideastream Public Media's Justin Glanville.