My grandmother died October 9th of this year.
She was my hero, one of my best friends, my moral compass and my prayer warrior. I had smoked my first cigarette hiding in the full, green leaves of the gigantic magnolia tree behind her apartment on Buford Highway and it was there she began helping mold me into a man with roots as strong as that beautiful tree. She taught me how to touch the inside of my nose with my tongue at that tiny apartment. At the small pool that she told me was mine she first told me that people made mistakes, that’s why pencils had erasers.
Edna Snyder taught me more about strength and courage than any man I’ve ever met.
Two years ago, on a crisp Friday night, I sat on my back porch and wept as the leaves fell around me. Nani had cancer. The same type that had just left the headlines for killing Farrah Fawcett. Her frail body would never make it through the storm on the horizon. I was filled with a seething rage for this world. All of the self important talking heads, the jagoff that wouldn’t let me out in traffic only to be at the same red light a mile up the road and God himself- if he even existed.
How could this happen?
My Grandmother deserved saint hood and nothing less! She cared about everyone but herself and I only cared for me and here I sat knowing that she would be gone in a year.
But she made it.
Thirteen chemo and radiation treatments and she took every one of them like a champ. She never complained to anyone but my mother. The nurses fell in love with the grand dame that showed up every week dressed up with her make up on. Her smile still made you feel like the sun had decided to shine just for you and the peace in her eyes touched everyone she came in contact with through out all her treatments. When she was up to it she would call and ask how I was doing. I call people to complain when I’m having a tough day at work.
Over the course of the next year she was diagnosed with COPD, heart failure, dementia and pneumonia numerous times. Through it all she clutched her rosary beads and she fought.She refused to give an inch of herself to any of the numerous shadows looming over each day. Each additional medicine or machine to keep her somewhat comfortable was well accepted.My mother, who put her life on hold to be with her mother, said that Nani prayed constantly. As sure as the sun would rise and set she would lay in bed with her hands folded over her oxygen tube, clutching her rosary beads and praying for all of us. Things looked hopeful for a time.
I was painting a house in Maryland October 7th. Nani was in the hospital again. This wasn’t the first time I had received the frantic calls from Ma about this being it. This time Dad called and told me to clean up my shit and get on a plane.
Within 24 hours of that moment I held my Nani’s hand as she said goodbye.
Her hands were still, her voice sure as she asked us to sing Happy Birthday to her. The nurses, the pastor and my family laughed through the tears as her loving eyes beamed and she tried to sing through the gasps for air. When we were finished she said, “1-2-3 YAY!” until we all did it in unison with her. The next fifteen minutes were spent putting one of her long, nimble hands on each of us and sharing a very personal goodbye.
Although her body held for another 12 hours, my grandmother was gone.
In her death she brought us all together. Nani removed self from the equation.
I’ve felt like my four year old probably would in a college calculus class since that day. Confused, angry, scared. Just putting my boots on and being nice to people for eight hours a day has been enough some days to make me hide in the bathroom and cry. But, I know that is not what Nani would want.
Accept the help that is laid before you.
Love the people in your life.
Put your family above all else.
Work hard and pray harder.
Let your character speak through your actions and be a lighthouse for the other ships struggling through the storm.
You’re not that important.
These are the things I’ve learned from my Grandmother. So, although every time I think of her I feel like I’m getting kicked in the stomach, I will continue to live my life in a way that would make her proud. And with each small victory I will remember the woman who helped me walk the line the past twenty-six years and hopefully be enough to pass something of her on to those whose life I get the opportunity to be a part of. I’ll try to emulate her purpose.
And this is how I’m going to grieve.