The first time watching Coco with my son, I was sobbing by the end. Not just because it’s a beautiful movie, because it is. But watching Miguel and his great-grandmother together hit me right in the heart. And to this day, it makes me miss my grandma. Watching that scene drove home that my son would never get to have that kind of bond with her. And he’s really missing out.
My grandmother died when I was 15. At this point I’ve been without her longer than I was with her. Being a teenager, missing her wasn’t actively on my mind. When she died, we were kind of estranged, and family tensions were high. In the days following her death and leading to her funeral, I was alarmingly stoic. My best friend and I did teenage things, and at her wake, I sat in the lobby, chatting with my other friends who came to pay their respects. It wasn’t until her funeral, when my great-aunt, her twin sister (who I called “Auntie Grandma” as a child) broke down in tears, that I cried. And even then, it was over quickly.
But motherhood is funny. There are random moments where memories will come flooding back.
A couple summers ago, after my son and I moved cross country, his favorite movie was Hello Dolly starring Barbra Streisand. Weird for a three-year-old, I know. But I did watch it a lot when I was pregnant, so maybe he has a memory I don’t know about. Seeing him dancing and singing with the movie brought me back to doing the same thing with my gram. Old movie musicals were our thing.
Now my son is a little older, around the age where memories really form. When I think back to being his age, all of my most prominent memories feature my grandma. We were super close when I was a little kid. And even though she’d be pretty old now if she was still alive, I know she and my son would have been just as close as I was to her at his age. That’s what breaks my heart the most, knowing he’ll never get to create those memories with her.
If he got to meet her, he would love her. She was in a wheelchair after suffering a stroke when I was a toddler. I can see him joyriding in her chair while she was in bed, or sitting on her lap while she zipped around. And I know that she would keep a steady supply of Hershey’s Kisses in her secret chocolate drawer because they’re his favorite. Every night I can see them sitting together to watch Jeopardy! because my gram never missed an episode. I bet they would stay up late watching TV on a Saturday night the same way she and I did. He would have delighted in handing over the back scratcher she jokingly called her “husband.”
There are so many things I can see them doing together in my mind… she and her best friend (who died years later) strapping his booster seat into the car and going on adventures, the two of them taking him to local theatre productions like they did with me, going to the same diner they took me to a million times, that somehow hasn’t changed even though it’s been 20 something years since I sat with them in a vinyl booth. He would wrinkle his nose at the stuff she ate (like liver and gefilte fish), but he would probably love a matzo spread with butter at Passover. (We’re not Jewish, but my grandma worked as a housekeeper for Jewish families back in the ‘60s.)
And even though we live across the country from my family, if my grandma were still alive that wouldn’t matter. She’d probably yell at my mom to show her how to video chat. And she would be a captive audience for my son while he pretends to be a YouTuber. Just like she sat and happily watched me dance for her. Sadly, they wouldn’t get to share the experience of watching her “stories,” because her favorite soap operas have been off the air forever. But he would watch The Price is Right with her. And just like she and I did when I was his age, they’d watch The Golden Girls together. Except now they’d be watching it on Hulu.
As much as I know she and my son would be the best friends, I can’t help but wonder what my relationship with her would be. There is so much of my life that she didn’t get to be a part of. And it never really bothered me until I had my son. She didn’t get to see me graduate from high school or college. Would she have traveled from Staten Island to Manhattan to see all of my plays in high school? Or would she and her bestie have road tripped up to Boston to see my one big play in college?
She never got to see me fall in love for the first time. Even though that relationship didn’t last, I still wonder what she would have thought. Would she be disappointed that we didn’t stay together? I can’t help but think of what she would have said when I came out. How would that have changed our relationship? She’d probably have been proud of my writing career, telling the old ladies she sat outside with that her granddaughter was published in The New York Times.
It’s hard to explain to my son how much my grandma meant to me. He’s young, so talking about abstract people isn’t something he understands. But I want him to know how much I loved her, and still love her. I hope he knows that if she were still here, he would love her too. Because she was the best. And I know I took her for granted because I thought we’d have more time.
And that’s why when Miguel kneels next to his Mama Coco and sings “Remember Me” to her, my heart breaks all over again. Because my son doesn’t get to have a relationship like that with my Gram.
Then again, maybe they’ve already met and that’s why he loves Hello Dolly so much.