I write often of my Grandmother and the monumental impact that she has made on my life. Because of her I understood the importance of proper grammar, standing up straight, looking your best when you left the house (you never know who you will run into); and the importance of perfect oral hygiene (she was a dental hygienist). I learned to cook and bake in her tiny galley kitchen, giving me free reign to experiment; never once complaining that I was in her way. I read her World-Book encyclopedias, listened to the Bee Gee’s, Andy Williams, Gershwin, Pavarotti and Bocelli on 78’s. I even owe my ridiculous sense of humor to her, as she would always let me stay up late and watch Carol Burnett after the late news. Most importantly, she instilled in me that faith is everything.
It is said that time will heal all wounds. This is true, only to an extent. A wound indeed “heals,” but the evidence is never completely gone. In the physical realm an injury whether it be scratch or a gaping chasm that is created, tissue will need to regenerate and heal over time; what is left is the scar. A scar is one of those things that we may not think about every day since the pain is no longer a constant reminder. I can look at every scar on my body and tell you when they occurred. For example, the one above my lip when I was pinned between a wall and my mother’s bed when I was two years old. It was dark, storming, and I rolled out of bed face down hitting the metal corner of the bed frame. Four decades later I can still vividly recall the fear of being trapped in the dark, crying, my aunt frantically trying to find me. The pain is no longer there of course, but I still see that scar and occasionally think about that scary night being trapped.
The same goes for when we lose those we love. Yesterday marked 15 years since my grandmother took her last breath on the 8th floor of Barnes-Jewish Hospital. It has been 15 years since I held her hand, kissed her forehead and whispered to her, “it’s ok to let go, Jesus is right on the other side waiting for you.” I wanted to write yesterday. I could not. My heart was too raw.
I was in Memphis this last week for work. I awakened yesterday morning ready to start my four-plus hour drive home. I enjoy road trips if I am driving. Especially those that I take alone. It is my time to think, reflect and to jam out on some gangster-rap (side note, my playlist would baffle the most seasoned psychologist).
I departed Memphis and within a half an hour, I was outside of the city limits into the vast barrenness of Arkansas. This is where my mind began its own road trip. I knew what day it was. It was THAT day that I somewhat dread every year. This year, was different. It was a milestone year. 15. FIFTEEN. Fifteen years. Yes, I am being redundant. But for the love of all that is holy, a whole 15 years has passed.
The sky was the most beautiful shade of blue that September 13th, in 2004. A few wispy, white cirrus clouds passing by; the air was warm with a hint of fall trying to get a foot in over summer. The trees were losing their vibrant green shades; many were now muted shades of green, some even transitioning to brown and yellow. I remember seeing strangers passing by smiling, chatting, rushing. The activity around me appeared to be some type bizarre of sci-fi, half-speed reality. It was as if I were invisible, with all of this life and living going on around me. On my drive home yesterday, I witnessed an exact replica of that day. The sky was the same shade of blue; the air warm and the trees fading. The clouds playfully dancing and following along as I sped down the highway. However this time, 15 years later, I did not feel invisible. It was quite the contrary. I felt alive, grateful and peaceful.
I had this sudden epiphany when I was thinking back to that day, while driving. The epiphany being how one moment, one event, one thing can change the entire direction of your life.
I have written many times about how my life has changed course over the years. As all of our lives do. Yesterday, it was a bit more impactful for me. I realized that on that day, the day that I said goodbye, I understood how grief can overtake the human body and physically bring a person to their knees and what loss truly felt like. I also realized how we have choices to make every single day that change our course, in one way or another.
On that day, I had been married for almost 10 years. I had three little boys who were 5, 6, and 8. I had just graduated at the age of 28 with my first Associate’s degree that took me 4 years to complete. I was working part-time, and an active member of my church, preparing for a very large dramatic production where I would be the leading character. I was heading to a local university to complete my degree in education. At that very moment in time, that is what was going on.
Today, I am not a high-school teacher (you are welcome parents). I am not gearing up to celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary. I no longer practice drama and I only go to church on Christmas Eve. My three little boys are now 20, 21, and 23, planning their own adult lives. Living in three different cities around the country. I have added a spunky, strong-willed and brilliant 12 year old daughter to the mix. My second wedding anniversary, with husband number three, will be in March.
In the last 15 years I have divorced twice, and remarried twice. I had a baby at the age of 31. My oldest son was diagnosed with Type I diabetes and I nearly lost my daughter to an undiagnosed defect as a newborn. I have moved 10 times, lived with my parents, lost a home and had to file for bankruptcy. Oh, and I even moved to a different state. I have made so many mistakes, have experienced great heartache, and have been the cause of heartache.
I changed majors and became a nurse. I obtained a second Associate’s degree, a Bachelor’s, and a Master’s in Business Administration. I have been a part of hundreds of joyous celebrations welcoming a new life into this world; and have cried with those whose children would never grow up. I have flown in helicopters and worked thousands of hours over nights. I left the career that I loved because I could barely afford to feed my own children. I changed course to do something different, to obtain a different result. Four jobs after that, I am now quite literally working my dream job. One that I worked my ass off to get.
I live in a home that I never imagined that I would live in. My children are all happy and well adjusted. We are all fed, clothed and taken care of very well. Grandma would be very proud of them. She would be proud of all of us.
I feel her presence all the time. I think that I have been more influenced by her after her death, than I was when she was still with us. Perhaps this is just the way that it is. Perhaps, we lose sight of the reality that those we love will not always be with us. Or, maybe it is not actually losing sight, but that we deny or ignore the possibility. Our physical mind avoids this. We are hardwired to avoid pain. It is what keeps us alive as humans. However, with regard to the mental pain of losing, it hurts too much to consider. When it happens, it changes us in one way, shape or form. There is no avoiding it. We will feel that sting, that pain of the gaping wound left behind. It will heal, in time.
Time will pass. What will you do with that time? Will you choose to allow life to define you; or will you define your life? Everything is a choice. Every damn day is a choice. Life is not fair; it is not fucking fair at all. In a way I am glad. It was during the times of “unfair” and discomfort that I pushed harder. I was going to be damned if I was ever going to let circumstances define me.
I would not be where I am today if life was fair. It has made me tough; resilient. Resiliency was something that I never thought I possessed. I do. Through the un-fair, shitty, sad and some days down-right ridiculousness of my life, I was able to keep coming back for more. Every punch, every stumble, and every loss I learned from. I chose to learn. It was a choice. Some days it was so hard, so I fought harder. I had to get back up to wipe off the blood, shake off the pain. I had to do that. According to society, I did not have to. I could have accepted my fate to become a statistic. Society would have “understood.” This was not an option. I had to fight to see how far I could go. Every battle I won empowered me to face another, and another. Quitting was never an option; ever. It still is not.
On that drive down memory lane I realized that I now have the knowledge, the tools and the drive to take on whatever the next 15 bring my way. I can move forward with a plan, strategy, confidence and most importantly, faith. I do not fear the pain.
Side note, I would have never said fucking 15 years ago. Yet, here we are and I say it way too much. I should probably work on that, and perhaps go to Church more than once a year.