I’ve mentioned before in a previous post, I lost my grandmother last June. She was more like a mother to me. She helped my own young parents raise me through my infancy into my early awkward preteen years. And once when I got into a fight with my mom, I stormed off down the street to grandma’s house and never came back. I moved in with my grandparents at 15 and stayed until I was 21. Gram was the most annoying, wonderful, nosy, hilarious, tacky, nagging, unconditional loving human I have ever known. She was my person; I was hers. It was no secret I was her favorite.
The day she was diagnosed – June 5th 2014, B and I were out having dinner and drinks celebrating his new schedule that would allow us to spend more time together. On the way home we stopped at my sister W’s house to see our niece, she was 11 months old at the time. I remember my mom calling me and asking where I was.
“I’m at W’s. What’s wrong??” I knew immediately that something wasn’t right. I prepared myself for whatever it was she had to say. “Is it my grandpa?” I asked, panicked. “Just calm down, I’ll be there in 5 minutes. Don’t leave.” She said. I hung up the phone and immediately felt that anxiety lump rising in my chest. I started pacing, telling my sister something happened. My mom walked in and looked concerned, like she didn’t want to say out loud what she had to say. Desperation in my voice I asked again, “What’s WRONG?”
“Jen, your grandma was diagnosed with leukemia today.” She didn’t have to time to finish the entire sentence before I ran to the bathroom and threw up. I sat in there by myself for 15 minutes, shaking and waiting for my hearing to stop ringing. I could hear muffled voices outside the door. “Is she going to be ok?” “Jen or grandma?” “We don’t know much yet.”
I stood slowly and rinsed my face in the sink with the coldest water. All while looking into my own scared eyes. “It’s okay. People survive cancer all the time. It’s okay.” My grandpa had just beaten Lymphoma a few years earlier. My other grandpa came out just fine after prostate cancer. (Side note, I still had all 4 of my grandparents at this point at the age of 30, as well as a great-grandmother who has also since passed. I’ve been very fortunate!)
That whole collective 30 minutes – nervously waiting for my mom, puking in my sisters hallway bathroom, staring at the hot pink walls wondering…letting my mind go to scary places…will forever be burned into my memory. When I came out of the bathroom B embraced me and rubbed my shoulders. My mom told me grandma didn’t want to bother anyone, but wondered if I could drive them all to St. Louis to the hospital she was being admitted to. “Absolutely. I need to see her.” I said. I drove my grandma, grandpa, mom and myself over to Barnes around 8pm. Gram wanted to stop at Taco Bell on the way. Of course we did, it’s always been her way or none. She’s the boss. Who would be the boss when she was gone? I didn’t have an appetite. I kept glancing at her in the backseat through the rearview mirror, wondering what was going through her head. How could she be so calm? I was screaming on the inside.
Holding back sobs as I held her hand not wanting to let go, I reluctantly left my grandmother in a terribly lit hospital room on the 6th floor that night. “Honey, I’m going to be just fine.” She let me know this often. I knew from the beginning she wasn’t going to be fine. This was my greatest fear playing itself in real time. I had to accept this as our new normal.
I’ll tell you what…through the entire experience, the woman didn’t complain once. Didn’t show fear ONCE. Didn’t let us talk about anything scary until it was time to talk about it. She hung on for almost a whole year. I witnessed her at every stage in this sickness. I knew when she was tired but faking it to accommodate everyone around her. I could see the pain in her eyes. She died in her home surrounded by everyone who loved her on a gorgeous afternoon – June 2nd, 2015. She was only 68. Watching the life leave my most beloved human being changed me.
I started mourning my grandma’s inevitable death the night my mom told me of her diagnosis. I didn’t stop mourning; I haven’t stopped. 4 days after she died I colored my natural blonde hair she loved so much near jet black. “That’ll show her.” I was angry. She can’t leave me yet. I managed to put on about 25 pounds in the last year, push away many people who genuinely care for me and become a bitter, angry person. I know I’ve been hard to live with. My husband has said it nice enough many times “Why are you being so mean? What’s going on with you?”
I cut my hours drastically at my salon, which is and always had been my pride and joy. My life. I let go of a chunk of my clientele. All I cared about was babying myself. Pity parties and traveling wherever and whenever to escape the sadness that would grip me every night. At least when I was away from home, I could see new places and feel bright new feelings and excitement that were vastly different than the sinking ones I had grown accustomed to living with.
I’ve been letting the grief and devastation just consume me. I can’t anymore. We’re coming up on the one year anniversary since she left us. 8 days ago, the first night I started my blog, I decided to change my way of thinking and along with it, work on bettering my life. I would talk about the things I loved; camping, travel, nature, hiking, love, my family…to bring about those feelings that make me feel good. Gram wouldn’t want me to be miserable. She’d tell me to get myself together.
I began walking (working on jogging!) just a couple days before blogging started. I’m walking the sadness right out of my bones. I want to love wholly again and not be terrified that someone else will leave me. I deserve to be rid of that stress, and B deserves it. I want to smile and bask in it instead of feeling guilty that I am enjoying a moment.
This is how I’m getting me back. It’s how I will live my life from now on. Trying to ajust to my new life without my grandma and making new healthy habits to go in place of the ones that bring me down.
Thank you for reading, and allowing me to share this still raw part of my story.