In loving memory of my Mammaw: a truly inspiring, spunky, and supportive grandmother
December 142009: the day that has and will forever transform my life. The past months had been filled with tears and hope; my Mammaw had been diagnosed with colon cancer. I failed to acknowledge this fact and chose to deny that I could ever lose her. However, on December 14 2009, reality made a rude awakening: cancer had won this battle. The death of my Mammaw transformed my life; the grief that once brewed in my heart grew into new opportunities and passion has filled in the holes of regret and planted a new sense of life.
That night, I experienced the most dramatic grief in my life. As my Mammaw laid in Hospice, breathing heavy and hunched over, I stayed strong for my mom and sisters. I sat quietly holding my Mammaw’s hand and trying to comfort those around me. I was in denial. I thought by staying strong for everyone else, I would forget that my Mammaw had just died. The reality struck hard that night, despite my denial. I was inconsolable; the tears rolled as a clam, yet rushing river would. I could not even sleep alone that night, because new fears began to rise. I began to fear death, not only my own, but of the ones even closer to me. However, the fear is not what bothered me the most; regret began to stew in my heart. I regretted my Mammaw being in a nursing home for one night out of her entire eighth month battle. I regretted the last words I had said to her while she was conscious. Most of all, I regretted not knowing if she heard the words, “I love you,” as she took her last breath. It was not until the funeral process that I began to recover from my grief and regret.
The transformation began as my mom and I dressed my Mammaw for the funeral. We applied her make up and curled her hair; we were not just facing death, we were triumphing over it. It brought peace to our family that her wishes were completed even though the body we dressed was just a corpse and her spirit looked down from heaven. This bout with grief, regret, and the funeral made me stronger. I began to realize that death is not to be feared, but yet embraced. It gave me peace to know that when my day comes, there is a brighter future ahead.
After returning to life without my Mammaw, my family found strength in new opportunities. There as been a history in my family of babies being born shortly before or after a death has occurred in the family. I was born five months after the death of my grandfather on my mother’s side, and strangely enough, my oldest sister gave birth to her son Jase three months prior to my Mammaws’ death. I have found that death bears new life and opportunities. That November of 2009, I started dating my first serious boyfriend. This new “opportunity” is what helped me cope and embrace the death of my Mammaw, and it puts a smile on my face to know that she met and was pleased with him before she passed. I believe God placed him in my life for a purpose, and we have endured many more hardships over the years that have only made us stronger as a couple.
Another opportunity that derived from her death, was an organization called Nellie’s club. This organization raises money and awareness for pediatric cancer. I had spent a lot of time grieving over the death of my Mammaw, but in reality she had the opportunity to live a long life of happiness. This is not the case when childhood cancer attacks. There have been numerous reporting’s of children being diagnosed with cancer the day after their birth. The fact that these kids were suffering and not even having the opportunity to play outside is one that again transformed the grief I had from the death of my Mammaw into passion for these young kids. I got involved in Nellie’s club my junior and senior year of high school. I quickly learned that these kids were some of the most happy, cheerful, and optimistic kids I have ever had the opportunity to meet. Even though they had chemo treatments and surgeries, and spent the majority of their time in hospitals they had more hope and positivity then I had in my life. Their stories changed my way of thinking. I have learned to be more positive and to take nothing for granted in my life. If five and six year olds can find happiness even when their hair is falling out, and they are told they only have days or weeks to live, I can surely stop feeling sorry for myself.
The death of my Mammaw planted new seeds of life. She inspired me to live each day to the fullest, and to take the opportunities that knock at my door. Her death taught me to get rid of my personal fear of death. I am not afraid of dying anymore, because of the peace I found in God after her death. I realized that Earth is nothing compared to Heaven; I had been holding onto a life full of heartache and refusing to accept that one day I will die and begin a new, better life with God. Due to my Mammaw’s death, I helped children with their battles with cancer. This was something I never thought I would do, but it was an experience that changed my life. And now, I try my best to embrace everyday like it was my last, and am now more focused on the words that come from my mouth. If I can give any advice in life, it would be to think before you speak, and let go of the small stuff because you never know when you or the person you are talking with will pass away. My boyfriend and I made the promise to never go to bed angry, and this is a promise that is applied in my family also. Life is too short to live with regret, anger, or grudges.
My family could have chosen to let my Mammaws’ death bury us too, but we chose to come together and create a new sense of life. Last year, on our annual two-week vacation to Orlando, Florida we made t-shirts for every member of our family, and below the Mickey head, it read: in memory of our Mammaw. We decided to live through her, so that when she looks down on us, she can be happy that we did not let death defeat us, instead we manipulated death into bearing new life. Death only has the power to take a physical corpse; the way you deal with death has the power to transform a life, and even plant a new sense of the life you once knew.