My grandmother was one of the most brilliant people in the world. I still stumble over the “was,” because up until a month ago, that sentence was in present tense. Gram took the world by the horns and made it hers; despite the (many) protestations of the (many) people who thought that maybe she should take it easy and bask in the luxuries of life, she carved a path through the world that was uniquely her own. She and my grandfather traveled the world, explored opportunities in their chosen fields and others, and always came back home with something new to share with the rest of us. When I was growing up, Gram seemed invincible – only she could wrangle the whole family into sitting down for dinner or standing still long enough to take a picture.
And then the cancer came for her.
To put it mildly, she put up a fight. Experimental treatments, drugs only just approved by the FDA, chemo, radiation; you name it, she probably tried it at least once. And, for awhile, it all worked. The looming specter of metastatic lung cancer took a backseat, and the six-month prognosis stretched into two full years of Gram. She was once again a boundless force of energy, outpacing the entire family in her quest to get to literally everything. She traveled, she came to my senior recital and graduation, she went with us to see Hamilton at the Orpheum in San Francisco (an obsession I introduced her to, thank you very much). So we had two years of endless joy, of adventures and new places and all the Honeybaked ham we could possibly consume.
But I still ended up writing this piece, so you know what happened. The chemo stopped working, the cancer evolved, and this time around, there wasn’t any stopping it. On September 20th, I got the call that she’d be going into hospice. The prognosis was two months; I wish we’d had that much time. Instead, on October 6th, 2017, my fiery, smart, unstoppable, tour-de-force of a grandmother died. And the world got a little lonelier.
This isn’t the piece I wanted to write. It won’t be the magical musical creation that helps me heal or keeps me going, but it manages to sit comfortably amidst the ashes of a tragedy that always manages to change everything. It’s not rage or grief or pain; it’s remembrance, of my grandmother and the multitudes of women forged by fire that lived within her. And, hopefully, a promise to those who still live in me.
Run time: approx. 3′.
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Hear the world premiere of multitudes as performed by Megan DeJarnett, John Pisaro, and Leila Bishop: