Dear Gedo and Teta…
We never forget.
The treats you used to sneak us. The times you argued with mom and dad on our behalf. The lessons you taught us. The stories you told us. The times you comforted us. The things you sacrificed to be close to us. All the ways you loved us and taught us to love.
I have four extraordinary grandparents. Giants of the faith. Valedictorians in every arena of their lives. Every step they took on this earth was deliberate and measured and confident. They didn’t just speak them but lived their priorities and values.
Today is April 18, 2016. The five-year anniversary of my late Teta Alice’s passing.
Probably, more than anything, I miss her singing.
If I close my eyes, I can hear the sweet notes and that immeasurably haunting lilt in her voice. If I sing today, it’s because Teta sang, so Baba sang, so I sing to my children.
I got married young and thought: Good–now Teta can see and be reassured. I gave birth a year later and took her to Egypt and thought: This is so Teta can hold her great-grandchild. Abouna was ordained the year after she departed, and I know Teta was holding a heavenly after party.
I want to write to you all the great stories of Teta. But where do I begin? To tell the story of how great a love can be / The sweet love story that is older than the sea / The simple truth about the love she gave to me / Where do I start?
My favorite Teta Alice stories… There are so many of them!!
Let me start with The Train Story.
The Train Story
I was traveling through Egypt by train with Teta Alice and her sister Tante Lulu. We needed to buy tickets, so we stopped not at the kiosk as you might expect but in front of a man sitting on a simple wooden chair.
As they exchanged pleasantries and he took their money to give them the tickets, he glanced briefly up at my grandmother with her head uncovered and her smart skirt suit and said to her, “So you’re a Christian, are you? What a shame…”
Now I want to stop for a second and tell you that I completely froze. You don’t say things like that to Teta and get away with it. And I was a 20-year-old Coptic-American in Egypt without my parents for the first time, and the atmosphere those days was increasingly extremist. Would Teta be diplomatic so we could live another day?
Of course not!!!
“Yes! I am a Christian! It is a great blessing! And I wish it on everyone!”
Young Laura next to her thought, “We’re gonna die. We’re gonna die.”
Instead the man chuckled and turned his right wrist over where clearly inked was the Coptic cross. We all let out a breath and boarded the train back from Zagazig. But I never forgot that moment, never forgot the fire in Teta’s eyes when she defended Christ in the face of an adversary. The squared shoulders, the eye contact, the stern voice.
Mom of the Year (Giza)
I guess it was the year after when my aunt, her only daughter, wrote an incredible essay on the sacrifices and achievements of her mother and submitted it to some kind of Mother’s Day competition (I don’t remember the details). Of course, Teta won by a landslide. Best Mom of the Giza Governorate. I chuckle thinking of how irate Teta was: “Why would you do such a thing!” She was sure her heavenly reward had been burned by the earthly recognition.
I remember one moment, near the end of her life, when we were visiting her in Egypt (it had become impossible for her to visit us). While out sightseeing with us, she suddenly clutched her chest. “I need my medicine. I left it in the car.” As my uncle ran back to the car for it, and we stood there with her, we all thought What if this is the end? Feeling our unspoken concern, she responded saying, “If it’s time, it’s time. I’m ready.” And grief-stricken, I screamed in my heart, I’M NOT READY!! The pill came in time. The moment passed.
Holy Week 2011
Much later, while I was state-side, she passed away in her sleep. It was the morning after Palm Sunday, and as you may know, there are no funerals held during Holy Week. Just like her to go when we can’t hold a full funeral. Just like her to point to the crucified and risen Christ as she heads to His arms. That didn’t stop the crowds from coming to pay their respects. I wish I could have been there to see them.
There are so many stories. Some funny, some poignant, some very deep.
The indelible lessons we learn from our grandparents, from interacting with them, from watching them interact with others. Our parents teach us the family values, but our grandparents show them to us.
Teta taught me about true love. Teta taught me to pursue Christ. Teta taught me to learn in every moment. Teta taught me to take serious things seriously and to sing when my heart rejoices.
I reach for her hand / It’s always there.
Take some time today and write a letter to your grandparents–whether still here on this earth to mail it to them or if they’ll be reading it from heaven. And what a great activity to do with your child(ren)!! Think of how happy it would make Teta and Gedo! I created a very simple template to help you gather your thoughts and express your thanks. Download here.