When We Laugh

Family trips are a rarity in my family. When I was a young child, my parents would send me to Grenada for a month. Sometimes one or both of them would join me for a week or so. After my brother and sister were born, my mother would bring the three of us. My father might join us for a few days, but usually he had to work.

When my paternal grandfather got sick (sometime in the late 1990’s) I promised myself I’d visit every year for as long as my grandparents lived. I consider it a miraculous blessing that I’ve been able to keep that promise, despite seasons of financial uncertainty or unemployment.

Since 2008, I’ve been coming with the man who was then my fiancée. By that time my paternal grandfather had passed away and my maternal grandmother had moved back here. I then had two grandmothers in Grenada—two reasons to keep my promise. And so I’ve continued to visit Grenada at least once a year.

This time is special. This time I’m here with my husband, siblings, and father. The last time I travelled with my siblings and parents, it was a family reunion. My grandparents were celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary, and all three of their sons brought their wives and children. I was in high school. I’m now in my mid-thirties.

The last two times I travelled to Grenada with my father, we were coming to attend funerals—first his father’s then his brother’s. I’ve also come to bury my maternal grandmother here. It’s been a prayer upon my heart for a while now to travel with my whole family—but to travel in vacation mode, not in mourning. So this trip to Grenada is an answered prayer: the five of us visiting my last living grandparent—my paternal grandmother.

Grenada is the birthplace of both my parents. For me, coming here is both life giving and nostalgic. Even though it is 3:40am as I begin to write this, it is not a chore to be awake. I am mere footsteps from my favorite beach—Grand Anse. I am writing to the sound of the crickets and frogs filling the night with their music. And keeping rhythm are the waves crashing against the shore. I can smell the fruits and sea salt and spices of the island in the temperate but highly humid air. I am at home in the homeland of my ancestors. I rediscover parts of them and myself here.

Yes, I love the beach, the curry, and the fruits, but few things have made me happier on this trip than seeing my father and Grandmother laugh. Their joy brings me joy because I know the darker things their laughter rests upon. For example, they are both widows.

All my life I have watched my father work hard. He is at the age when many consider retirement, but he still tirelessly pursues the American dream. He has encountered numerous obstacles in that pursuit, and yet he presses on. If discipline, effort, and long hours were directly proportional to wealth, I’d have grown up in a mansion. He does not have a nest egg to sustain him, and so he must work on. He has also known loss. To date, he has buried his father, wife, and a brother. It is a privilege that warms my heart to hear him laugh and see him relax—to become childlike as he enjoys the place where he was born.

My grandmother has embraced life even when life has been harsh for her. She grew up as an orphan. Her mother died and then, largely because she’s cross-eyed, her father disowned her. She married my grandfather because he chose her. She is proud of their fifty-five years of marriage, but he was unfaithful to her. After their fiftieth anniversary I learned that my eldest uncle was actually my half uncle. My grandfather brought him home as a baby for my grandmother to raise before my grandmother bore him a son.

Two days before my husband (fiancée then) and I were scheduled to visit Grenada together for the first time, my grandmother had a stroke. She lost control of the left side of her body, and has been bedridden ever since. In August it will have been seven years that she has been living on her back (able to sit up for a few hours a day). Since then she has not walked, bathed herself, seen the sun or felt it on her skin. Her eyesight is failing her, and she can’t do anything that requires two hands—like cook or crotchet. She has not attended a service at her beloved Anglican church or slipped into the ocean’s cool and refreshing touch. For seven years she has been in her bed—her only distractions being her radio, her nurses, and whoever decides to call her or visit. In her own words, she is ready to die. And yet, she still finds joy in life. Her body is weak, but her spirit and her laugh are strong. Her mind and sense of humor remain active. She fills our time together with stories saturated in nostalgia. Very little bitterness or sadness seeps out of her.

This trip has been an answered prayer and a blessing. I have enjoyed watching the sun sink into the Caribbean Sea—painting the sky shades of pink that compliment the rum punch I’m drinking. I have relished my favorite foods and juices. I have savored my walks along the beach, staring out at a sparkling ocean—a pristinely clear shade of aquamarine. But all these joys pale in comparison to the best parts of this trip…three generations under one roof—and when we laugh.

Isn't it beautiful?

Isn’t it beautiful?


7 thoughts on “When We Laugh

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