Dear Grandma: ‘When I think of true selflessness, I imagine you’ –

The compassion she has shown as a front-line worker during the pandemic, Kelsey Adams writes to her grandmother, is what society needs to rebuild itself.

Kelsey Adams (left) and her grandmother Grace Adams (Photograph by Jalani Morgan)

Kelsey Adams (left) and her grandmother Grace Adams (Photograph by Jalani Morgan)

He received his second COVID-19 vaccine on January 5. I had the date highlighted on my calendar. I remember closing my eyes and smiling until my jaw ached after my dad, your son, told me the news. I hadn’t realized it before, but I’d been holding my breath for months, my body tense with worry.

None of us saw it coming last year; It seemed that the pandemic had taken the world by surprise. You, and many others like you, have helped humanity overcome it. We often talk about the sacrifices of frontline workers, but many of us are shielded from everyday reality – we are not in long-term care facilities or ICUs. As a personal support worker, you have cared for people who are isolated from their families and who long for comfort and compassion.

My brother and I always joke about the fact that our grandmother takes care of other people’s grandparents, but the pandemic turned that irony around. You worked eight days straight, double shifts. When his LTC facility was understaffed, he came in on his days off or while on vacation. When you’re not at work, your phone rings with calls from residents missing your presence.

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My first question, in the rare moments I’ve seen you in person lately, is always: “When was your last day off?” I know I’m bothering you, but I can see the stress etched on your face, the weight of the past year reflected in your eyes. If you were ever worried about getting sick, you never showed it. And miraculously, you never got infected.

What he did show was strength and calm strength. It has been deeply inspiring to see how you give everything to the residents, to make sure they feel cared for, safe and loved. The pandemic has been a never-ending attack, but you are always there with a smile and a comforting hand.

But this is not new, this has always been who you are. When I think of true selflessness, I imagine you. You are your name personified: Grace.

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Grandma, you have always been a great worker, to be an immigrant mother of four you had to be. Moving his family from Jamaica to Toronto in the 1970s and building a whole new life was a feat in itself. You had many jobs to feed, house and clothe your family, but I know it was important to you that your work had a purpose. My parents told me how proud he was when he completed the courses in 1992 and became a personal support worker.

You and Grandpa built a glorious new life, with three generations to prove it. It does not escape me that I am standing on the spine of the life that you created. I owe you all and thank you for laying the foundation for me to dream and achieve endless possibilities.

I have been receiving much of your love and consideration. From the first breath I took, he protected me. I was born prematurely, weighing only three pounds, and you prayed every night for a month until I was safely home. Then my mom began to notice that whatever needs she mentioned would be there waiting for her next visit. You still do it today, silently mentally controlling every potential need and surprising us unexpectedly, including the care packages you put together for my brother when he’s away from home.

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Your caring nature extends beyond family. I heard the stories about their open door policy back in the day. Whenever any of his children’s friends had less-than-ideal home situations, he welcomed them to his without hesitation. I’ve seen firsthand the way you help everyone out at your church, how no one leaves your house empty-handed, the extra dinner you make in case someone passes by.

We are in the last and long stretch of this pandemic and you remain a haven and safe harbor for many. But I beg you to start taking more days off.

His is a legacy of empathy and altruistic service. If there’s one thing your actions have taught me during COVID, it’s that the only way we can rebuild when it’s over is to see uplifting community as our collective responsibility. In small ways, every day, you embody the spirit humanity needs to achieve a more equitable and supportive future.

This article appears in print in the September 2021 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the title “Dear grandmother”. Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.

The piece is part of Maclean’s The Before You Go series, which collects unique and heartfelt letters from Canadians who take the time to say “Thank you, I love you” to special people in their lives, because we shouldn’t have to wait until it’s too late to tell our loved ones dear how we really feel. Read more essays here. If you’d like to see your own letters or reflections published, email us here. For more details on how to submit yours, Click here.

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