Life…for every one of us, it’s a puzzle made up of different pieces, different moments. As that famed song in Rent says, there are “five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes” in every year that we live, so basically, that’s a whole lotta moments. For the most part it’s small, mundane moments; brushing our teeth, taking out the trash, traveling to and from work, school and other obligatory destinations. But, there are those few moments in our lives, both good and bad, that are truly life-defining and create us into the unique individuals we are.
A few of the good; getting accepted into and graduating from college, meeting our future spouse/partner, our wedding day and the birth of our children. And then the bad; our first heartbreak, parents’ divorces, our first experience of rejection from a college or job. There is, however, one inevitable part of life that we all must deal with at some point, and which I’ll venture out to say is the suckiest part of life; death. There is nothing quite like losing someone you love. It hits you at your very core, turns your world upside down, and makes life suddenly seem so REAL. For me, this jarring, life-changing moment happened just over a year ago when my dear grandmother lost her battle with ovarian cancer.
I will never forget the moment my telephone rang and my mom was on the other end saying “Jess, you need to get on a plane and get home now, Gramma has hours to days to live.” I was flying high from one of those “good moments,” having received my B.A. in Writing and Lit from Columbia the day before and I was on top of the world. I went from that moment of pure joy and pride to utter devastation in less than 60 seconds. We knew Gramma had cancer, she’d been diagnosed in January of 2006 and had been fighting a tough fight since. The day before I got that phone call, we’d been told she only had between a few weeks to months left, so this wasn’t something completely unexpected. However, I guess we were still thinking we had a bit of time left with her, and there really is nothing that can prepare you to hear those dreaded words.
The next several hours were spent in a tizzy trying to get a flight out to San Diego as soon as possible and not knowing if I would make it home in time to say good-bye. Thankfully, I did. In fact, I talked to her numerous times on my journey out there and she kept telling me she was waiting for me to arrive. She stayed alive until the following Tuesday (5 days after I got the phone call) and the time we spent with her in the hospital was nothing short of amazing, but there was nothing that could have helped me grasp the depth of loss and pain I would feel with her passing.
I am no stranger to death, I’ve been to more funerals than a lot of people my age have. I have lost 3 very close friends, several acquaintances, my paternal grandparents, family friends and seen a couple of my closest friends lose their parents. I know how final and hard death is, but nothing has ever hit me with this force, I have never lost anyone who played this important of a role in my life. My Gramma was truly one of the greatest people I have ever known, and I know it sounds biased, but anyone who knew her would agree.
She was the most unconditionally loving, selfless, and kind-hearted person you could imagine. In the nearly 28 years I knew her, I never once heard her speak a negative thing about another person, she is the only person I can say that about. Her memorial service had everyone ranging from friends and family, to nurses from the cancer center, and even people like her gardener and exterminator. She touched peoples’ lives in a unique way, by simply enveloping them in love the moment she met them. She had a warmth in her smile, her laugh, and her touch that are unparalleled and I could talk to her about anything. She was a rock for me throughout my life, but especially after my parents got divorced and my mom struggled to raise three girls on her own.
Before I moved to New York, I would rarely miss my weekly dinner with Gramma and Grampa to catch them up on my life, and after I moved, I would still make a weekly phone call so I could hear her “Oh Jecca! How wonderful! I am so proud of you, you are my star.” I would make jokes that whenever I needed an ego boost, all I had to do was call Gramma and she would tell me how beautiful, talented, smart and wonderful I am. And she meant every word. So how then, could I live without this person?
How would I deal with her absence at my wedding? With her never meeting my future husband, and even moreso, him never meeting her? These thoughts still haunt me a year later and sometimes the pain is just as intense as the day she died. I miss her so deeply that it physically hurts and I long for the days back when she would reign over our family gatherings laughing at our crazy antics and teaching us how to jitterbug.
Every day I learn a little bit more about how to cope with the pain and along with that has also come a peace and serenity. An ability to look back on those times and laugh, to be so thankful for the years we did have together and for all those “little moments” that meant so much; making apple pies, going to the zoo, laughing until our faces literally hurt. All those little moments make up one big picture of who my Gramma was and who I am. She is reflected so much in me (and the rest of my family) and through that she lives on. I know I’ll never see her face or hear her voice or laughter again, but I know that anyone who comes into my life from this day forward, will get to know her through me; through my stories, through my life choices, through my values.
She embedded so many of these things into me, and that is what gets me through those hard days when all I want is to pick up the phone and get her advice. I know there’ll be plenty more of those tough days in the future, but I also know I can happily look back and be thankful that I was touched by someone who meant so much to so many people and who will forever play a leading role in my life. And perhaps that makes the good-bye just a tad bit easier.