1. Be yourself: I love to dance; there were plenty of late night dance parties in the cancer ward of the hospital. My grandmother really encouraged me to not care about what others think. I recognize that we all do on some level and it can be a struggle, but it really feels wonderful when all inhibitions float away.
2. Be autodidactic: Nanny did not have a college or even high school diploma – she grew up in the school of hard knocks. She survived the depression, several wars, and three kids. She loved to read and was a well-informed American Citizen. She adored Hilary Clinton, but I think Bill’s saxophone skills swooned her every time.
3. Be giving: As a matriarch she set an example of true selflessness. She woke at five in the morning and went to bed after ten seven days a week. The only person she forgot to take care of was herself.
The lessons I learned from her death are not as defined, though they are just as meaningful. Instead of allowing the cancer, which killed my grandmother’s physical body to also kill my own spirit, I have (in turns successful and unsuccessful) attempted to learn from the experience – to be grateful for my suffering. Foremost I am deeply grateful that I had the opportunity to take care of her in her time of need. To show up for her in the last few weeks of her life in the same way she showed up for me through the years taught me much about true love. To bathe, change the diaper, and feed someone who did those same acts of love for you brought life full circle. In his book Man’s Search For Meaning Victor Frankl captures this idea best: “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning, such as the meaning of sacrifice.”
Ultimately I hope my little bit of truth, the story of my lived experience, injects you with whatever medicine you may need. Perhaps hope for those who have recently lost someone, inspiration for those who are lost, and courage for those who are fearful that this will one day be their own truth. Just as it is challenging to describe the scent of a rose, it is difficult to come to terms with the complexities of death. To know there is more than thorns in death—that there is an exquisite pink rose somewhere above—is helpful.
“Sometimes when I think about death I have a feeling of curiosity and this makes it much easier for me to accept death,” Tenzin Gyatso,
His Holiness The XIV Dalai Lama.
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