Reflection on Writing

by Brooke Randel

Read her story Swimming with My Grandma here

My grandma is a Holocaust survivor and the thing about survivors is that they survive. So the thought of her mortality was not easy for me to grasp. As her health began to falter, I took notes on my phone of our visits together. I wanted to remember the little things she said, the way she made me feel. I was scared of forgetting her voice. I wanted to grief-proof my heart as much as possible, inoculate myself against the vague sense that she might not live forever. Could it be? I wrote this piece amid that fear, sadness and love.

Caretaking is an experience of unreality. The roles, set so many years earlier, reverse or slip or cross, and it’s hard to make sense of what you or they can or cannot do. I wanted to capture the strangeness of my time with my grandma, how funny it could be, and how unsettling. I felt so incapable, so nervous and hopeful. What was I hoping for? I think I always wanted one more swim with her, one more walk through warm blue water.

It’s been a year since I finished writing “Swimming with My Grandma,” nine months since she died and four months since the essay was first published in Hippocampus Magazine. I have no specific advice for writing about caretaking, aging and death, but my grandma, who was illiterate, did give me writing advice once. She said, “Put it all on one paper and you know what to do. It comes to you in time.” Sit with it, then give it time. Her voice is as clear as ever.

Brooke Randel is a writer and associate creative director in Chicago. Her writing has been published in Hippocampus, Hypertext Magazine, Jewish Fiction, and elsewhere. She is currently writing a memoir about her grandma, literacy and the legacy of the Holocaust. Find more of her work at

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