Lessons of Loss, Lessons of Strength

*This post is four months old – just came across and published. Footnote will give updates.

My freshman year of high school a friend died suddenly. The guidance counselors gathered those who knew her into the cafeteria and we sat, numbly, trying to make sense of it. I remember watching people outside of the cafeteria walking, talking and joking. It felt like they were in an alternate universe. How could they be laughing when she was dead?

I couldn’t grasp it at the time. Looking back I realize that I’d learned my first lesson about loss: even when you are hurting the most, when you feel like you have a hole in your heart: life goes on. In my freshman year of high school, the world marched on, and soon enough, so did I.

2013 was a year of loss for my Daddy and our family. Grandpa, the stronger of his parents, got diagnosed with Leukemia and within two weeks passed away. Daddy cleaned out their two-story home and carefully went through 80 plus years worth of stuff, deciding which was important to hold on to and what needed to be given away. He and his sisters searched for a home for Grandma, who had been sick with cancer for 16 years.

Grandma held on. She got more and more sick and Dad took care of her. He went almost every day to see his mother at the home. She was slowly deteriorating, in body and mind, but her spirit was still there. Daddy could still make her smile, though. I would ask him how she was; for months, he’d tell me, “she’s about the same.”

By Thanksgiving, Grandma was a shell of her former self. She was so small that her body was almost unrecognizable and on so much pain medicine that her eyes stayed closed most of the time. He stayed with her all day that day because he didn’t want her to spend the holiday alone. I surprised him by coming to the home and bringing his favorite, apple pie. I didn’t want him to be alone on Thanksgiving.

“But I’m not alone,” he told me. “I’m with my momma.”

I sat with him and Grandma for a little bit, having to leave the room a few times to gather myself.

When in the room with them, I watched the way my father treated her. Daddy has always been my rock, but that day I saw him in a different light. I watched him sit by his mother’s side, putting the straw in her mouth so that she would take a sip, brushing her hair back from her face, caring for her like a mother would a child yet talking to her like he normally would. I gained another level of respect for my dad that day.

Two weeks later I got the call from Daddy; Grandma finally let go.

Once again I saw my Daddy pack up another place, this one smaller. Holding on to certain memories and giving away others, including no less than twenty bags of unworn Talbot’s clothes (no one will argue we’re related).

Within a year, the strongest man I know lost both of his parents.

After Grandma passed, he seemed different, and understandably so. He had a lot of things to internalize, I think. Of course he was sad when Grandpa passed but had work to do. For months he was by his mothers side while she was in the process of dying. When Grandma passed and her place was cleaned out, aside from a ton of paperwork etc., Dad didn’t have a parent to tend to. For years he’d been helping my grandparents, and the entire year was dedicated to caring for them.

And life moved on.

Two weeks ago, Nana got diagnosed with colon cancer. I just lost both of my grandparents and, while I loved them dearly, Nana is a part of my soul. I know there will come a time when I will lose her (physically) but I’m not ready for that yet. Not that I’ll have a choice.

The surgeon booked Nana’s surgery for one week after diagnosis. I knew I wanted to be by her side. She wanted me to be there before the surgery, and although she didn’t say so, I knew why. She’s 89 and even though she’s tough, any surgery is risky at her age.

Her surgery included not only removing the tumor, but two other fixes that we knew about ahead of time. Two and a half hours later, the surgeon came out with good news: everything went as planned.

I spent five days in the hospital with Nana and was reminded of her strength. Anyone that knows her knows she is strong- a Holocoust survivor that moved to America with her brother in her teens. But there is a core strength and determination that I’ve seen many times, and was reminded of again during the hospital stay.

Nana did not take one painkiller stronger than Tylenol after a major surgery. Not one. She was walking before they said she would and gave the nurses a run for their money trying to keep up with her with the IV machine. Now that she knew she was okay, she was determined to get healthy and get out. To live her life.

Nanawalk

 

I had to leave her today, get back to my life in Miami. I was sad to leave her but felt okay because I’ve seen what she can handle. She is strong. And I can only hope she’s passed that strength on to me, and that I’m able to handle life with half of her grace and determination.

And so I’ve learned, that life goes on.

 

*This post is dedicated to my Grandma and Grandpa in heaven. I love and miss you both. To my Daddy, my role model. And of course to Nana, who in a few short months will celebrate her 90th birthday in style (and good health!).

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