April 2, 2020

Against all odds

The News: I was only five years old when my grandfather passed away. I don’t remember anything about his life– except what I am told from stories and pictures. However, I remember his death as though it happened yesterday. I was at my friend Rebecca’s birthday party. We were having lots of fun playing pin the tail on the donkey. Suddenly Rebecca’s mother came over to me with a very sullen look on her face. She told me that I should get my shoes and my coat on because my mother was coming to pick me up early.  Though I was only five, I knew that something was terribly wrong. I remember trembling as I stood by the door waiting to be picked up. I kept thinking of our dog Lucy. She was old, but pretty healthy – had something suddenly happened to her? Then I thought maybe someone had broken into our house and stolen all the toys. I remember feeling overwhelmed with scary thoughts, however, I could never have imagined what was actually going on.

Less than ten minutes later (though it felt like eternity) my older brother arrived at the door. He had been at a soccer game and our mother had picked him up first. We both got in the car and didn’t say a word. The six minute drive to our house was the most silent car ride my family ever had. When we got in the house my mother told all three of my brothers, and me to go into the living room. My father was already sitting there waiting. Then she broke the news. Our sixty-seven year old grandfather had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and his prognosis was not good. The doctors expected his situation to deteriorate within days, and they gave him no more than six weeks to live. My grandfather lived six hours away – by plane. We usually saw him once a year, on Thanksgiving, when all of my mother’s side of the family flew in. In our short family meeting my mother announced that she would be traveling alone to visit with her father and say her final good-byes. After much debate she and my father had decided that the family’s financial situation was too tight for us to all make the visit. Additionally, they thought it would be too traumatic.

The Goodbye: We all drove my mother to the airport. My mother had booked a one-way ticket and we didn’t know how long she would be gone for. As a five year old I had never gone more than a weekend without seeing my mother, and she had never been further from me than a five hour drive. I clung to her like a baby. I was terrified to say good-bye. I knew that my father and brother’s would be staying, but no one knew how to tuck me in just like my mother did, no one knew exactly how to make my macaroni and cheese, and no one else could make my pig-tails perfectly even. On top of all my fears, I knew my mother was sad, and it was so hard to see her cry.

Against all Odds: My mother was gone for exactly seven weeks and two days. My grandfather lived for six and a half more weeks and after that my mother stayed for the funeral and memorial service. Those seven weeks and two days were probably one of the most trying times for my entire family; however we survived against all odds, and in the end I think it made us stronger. Each morning my father woke us up and made toast for breakfast. Slowly he began taking over things that my mother had usually done – and the most surprising of all was that he even learned how to make me pig tails! Each afternoon a different mother in the community came over to make us dinner. My father needed to stay at work late sometimes so my older brother read me a bed time story and tucked me in. As a five year old it was very special to have the undivided attention of my fourteen year old brother. My mother, who was going through a very rough time, said she couldn’t have been more proud of her four boys (my father and three brothers) and her little princess. While I would never wish such a nightmare upon any family, my family fought through that time and in the end I think we came out stronger. 

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