I’m tempted to say that I “remember it like it was yesterday,” because that’s what you’re supposed to say about the day something life-changing happened. You should have memorized every little detail by heart. The clothes you were wearing, what time it was, the exact words that broke the news, the temperature — it’s all supposed to be etched into your brain like some sort of mental tattoo. But to be completely honest, August 29th, 2007 is mostly a blur. I can’t decide whether the blurriness is an inevitable result of the amount of time that has passed or if it’s due to the fact that, like many people, I have made an active effort to forget everything about middle school. Regardless, my distinct memories of that day are few and far between.
When someone is in Hospice for four months, you have to be ready to lose them. We tried to be as “ready” as we could be, but none of us were ready. Looking back on that day, I couldn’t tell you how humid it was or what the top news stories were. But the one thing I’m absolutely sure of was that I was in no way prepared to lose one of the most important people in my life for the first time — or to process the amount of pain that came with it.
Ten years later, I find it somewhat disorienting that the vast majority of people in my life have no idea who my grandma was. They know that I wear a necklace every single day that has “8.29.07” engraved in it, and they know why. But they don’t know her. They don’t know how she loved to dress up for church every Sunday, and that we would have to get there at least 20 minutes early so that she could stop and say hello to what seemed like every single person before finally taking a seat. They don’t know about how much she loved to cook and how, almost every single night, she’d literally walk down the street to our house carrying a piping hot pan of whatever she had made for dinner. (She didn’t drive, but you’d be crazy to think that would ever stop her from feeding us.) They don’t know that people nicknamed her “Red” because the only thing brighter than her smile was her curly red hair that you could spot from anywhere. And they don’t know that even when she lost her bright red hair during her chemo treatments, she never lost that smile.
My grandma had the most incredible gift of making everyone feel special. No matter what you did — whether it was winning a Little League game, acing a test, learning to drive, or anything in between — she made you feel on top of the world. And when something went wrong, there was nothing that a big hug from her couldn’t fix. She had the warmest, most genuine, and most loving disposition of anyone I have ever known, and she lit up a room as soon as she walked in. To this day, people still come up to me and tell me stories about her or things that she did for them that they’ll never forget. She loved everyone, and everyone loved her back. She saw the good in people even when no one else could, and every conversation with her left you feeling a million times better than you did before.
Ten years later, not a day goes by where I don’t wish I could just sit at her kitchen table in one of those horrible chairs from the 60s with woven cane webbing that left patterned marks on your legs. (Or, if it was winter, on the radiator to keep my butt warm.) I wish I could help her bake a strawberry shortcake or set the table for Sunday dinner. I wish we could pick crocuses in the spring and splash around in the pool all summer. I wish I could pick up the phone on March 10th and hear her sing the entirety of “Happy Birthday” like she did every single year (at 7 am, because she had to be the first to say it). I wish she could have seen me graduate high school and college, and I wish she could come to my wedding someday.
Ten years later, I can wish these things and I can look back on all of our photos and home videos and instead of crying, I can finally smile. It’s not that it has gotten easier. Her absence is felt just as much today as it was all those years ago, and I will always feel that void — even when I have grandchildren of my own. But with ten years of perspective, I am learning to focus more on what we had and less on what we lost. Reflecting on the amazing woman she was has allowed me to see so much of her in all of us. Things like my sister’s talent for baking (and making a complete mess), my Aunt Joanne’s compassion and empathy, my cousin Melissa’s patience and natural teaching ability, and my dad’s energy and diligence — but most importantly, my entire family’s unconditional love for each other. This love is what got us through August 29th, 2007 and the dark days that followed. This love is what has kept us going for the ten years since then, and it is what will keep us going tomorrow and the next day. She taught us all that family comes above everything else. She showed us through her actions how to love and support each other no matter what, and as long as we honor her legacy by doing so, I know she’ll never truly be gone.