The Warrior I Strive to Be

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My grandma and I on my 40th birthday

When my grandpa was diagnosed with cancer something like a million years ago, the twenty-something me was a tad different than the current 40-year-old me. And while obviously no one likes death or losing someone, witnessing the fast demise of my grandpa was just not something I was able to mentally handle. So instead I chose to write him a brief, but heart-felt letter so I knew for certain that he knew just how special he was to me. My aunt read it to him sometime before he died, and while I don’t believe he was communicating too much in the end, she assured me that he had indeed heard my words and understood.

Now this time last year my grandmother took a turn for the worse and none of us believed she would make it to see Christmas. We all got in our extra visits, and she was given her last Rites. And yet miraculously somehow she rallied. For an entire year. She struggled with dementia, her body was failing her and yet she continued to fight. That is until last week. My aunt called me last Sunday and suggested I go visit her as she wasn’t doing so well. Thankfully we had no plans that day so I was able to go and spend a few hours with her. But I never in a million years thought it was going to be my last visit. So when my aunt called me Wednesday suggesting I come again, while I was concerned over her urgency I still thought to myself, we’ve been here before, she’s struggling but she’ll work her way out of it. She always does. I finished up my errands. and Evelyn and I headed over. But I got there five minutes too late.

I don’t know why I never wrote my grandma a letter like I had my grandpa. I always told her I loved her, and she of course knew it but did she know everything? While it’s too late for her to ever hear my words aloud, I have to think she’s somewhere still listening. So Wednesday evening as I was in emotional turmoil filled with uncontrollable grief, confusion, and disbelief, my only solution was to put my thoughts on paper (well, a computer). It’s my therapy after all. It didn’t, nor will it ever, end my grief, but it did give me some sense of momentary peace.

Dear grandma,

Just two days ago we were bonding over Suze Orman, admiring her stilettos and discussing how she could take a man out with them. And you were telling me your plans of wanting to get a dog. You know, one that could just go in and out the back door so it wouldn’t be much trouble, you said. And now you’re gone. But a funny thing is as I was typing this the auto correct said you were “home” not gone. Maybe that’s you giving me my sign. Because right now I feel like you’re the only one in the world who can truly comfort me. I wish I had been brave enough to talk to you about the “end” when it was actually significant and ask your feelings about it. I know you weren’t afraid because I used to make you talk about death all the time. We used to always joke that you were too healthy and while it was silly, I still took comfort in it. Because I don’t think I ever accepted the truth that you wouldn’t actually be here forever. But I can only assume and imagine that Grandpa and my mom were waiting for you with open arms and the biggest box of wine you ever did see. So maybe you are indeed home.

My cousins have always teased me that I was the Golden Child. And that’s ok because obviously I am. Duh. But truthfully you were the Golden Grandma. I know you took pity on me for not having a mother and I was your only grandchild for a long time, but circumstances aside, we had a bond that I will cherish forever. You and Grandpa did everything for me. Endless supplies of donuts, homemade fried shrimp, trips to the city, New year’s Eve (virgin) pink squirrels, letting me drive (on the highway!!) well before I had my license. These are the memories that I’ll never forget. And yes even those long road trips to Kansas where you and Grandpa hot boxed me with your horrific cigarette smoke for hours on end. Even those memories I’ll always look back on and smile.

You were such an influential and special person in my life. You helped fill a void that I didn’t even understand. You mesmerized me with your stories of faith and you were always 100 percent honest with every question I threw at you. I appreciate that more than I ever told you. My aunt told me today that you were the strongest person she ever knew. And aside from my stepmom I would completely agree with that. You were a role model to us all even when you didn’t mean to be. You showed us just what unwavering strength and faith truly is. And you always said exactly how you felt, no bull shit. Your life wasn’t easy. You didn’t grow up with much, but you had a loving family. You outlived a daughter, a grandson and a husband. You showed us all just what it looks like not to quit when times are hard, but more importantly what it looks like to preserver.  And end up stronger because of it. You were the epitome of a true fighter, grandma.

I’ll miss your spunk, our crazy conversations (even if we had the same ones over and over the past few years), but most of all I’ll miss our laughs because you made me laugh like no other. I don’t think most grandmas are nearly as funny as you were. Just one of the many reasons why I was so lucky to have had you for as long as I did.

I’m sorry I missed you at the end. But I know that was just you simply looking out for me as you always have. Because now I won’t remember you in death. Instead I’ll chuckle about our last moments together with Suze and your soon-to-be dog. I love you with all my heart, grandma. I hope to someday see you again.

Love, The Golden Child

We laid my grandma to rest this weekend, and while it was such a sad day, I think we all did a pretty good job of celebrating her life. We came together as the strong family that she taught us to be. We cried. We laughed. We drank (way too much). We sang. We danced. And we lived. And in doing so, I know that her spirit lives on in each of us. Rest in peace, Grandma.

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