The Sickness-the Last GoodbyeThese are a couple stories i had to write for a college comp class a couple of years ago. Rough copies so please dont be too cruel with my grammar or punctuation. The stories just seemed to fit this group i found. To all who have lost any loved one to cancer. I pray for the cure.
Another uneventful day at school was finally over. I rubbed my tired worry-filled eyes and got in my car to go home. I dialed Mom's work to see if she had any news about why my grandma was in the hospital. I knew she couldn't breathe; she had 22% lung capacity in one lung- of course she couldn't breathe! As the phone rang, I wondered what was going on. A cheery voice picked up, "CVS Pharmacy." I calmly asked for Sharon and waited, expecting to be connected. The voice informed me that my mother had left work and was at the hospital with my grandma.
Panic filled my body and my mind raced like bullets. Next I tried her cell, and breathed with relief when she answered "hello."
"Mom, what's going on? Is everything okay?" She told me, very reassuringly, that Grandma was fine. "It's just pneumonia again, and Grandma is going to be alright." We agreed that I'd visit the hospital around five o'clock. Pleased at the news that it wasn't more serious than that, we ended our conversation and I went on with my day.
I drove to my boyfriend's house, less worried than before, just to kill some time before the hospital visit. Time seemed to fly by, and before I knew it my mom was blowing up both of our phones. Missed call after missed call, proved to me that something was wrong. Hesitantly I picked up my cell phone, scrolled down to Mom, pressed the call key, and waited and prayed. Little did I know, I was about to receive news that I had least expected. "Jessica, where are you?" Mom said as she answered.
"Shane's house, why?" My heart was racing. "What's going on, what's wrong?"
She answered back in a frightened voice. "Oh my God Jess, did your cousin tell you? Did Ashley tell you? Sis you need to come home, I need to talk to you and your brother."
My breath shortened, and my wide eyes started to fill with tears. "Mom, tell me! What is going on?" I demanded. Trying to keep me calm she instructed me to have Shane bring me home. She was trying to avoid the subject that was dwelling on her mind. I wouldn't be able to drive after hearing the facts she was about to pour on me. I was scared now. She took a deep breath and said…"Jess, it's cancer. There are two spots in her lungs, and some on her liver. Babe, you can't drive like this…".
The phone fell out of my hand. The world seemed to slow. I can't recall what she said after that. All I could say was, "Oh my God". Suddenly I let go. Uncontrollable tears rained down from my eyes as I realized the strongest person I knew, was dying.
Shane was doing his best to calm me down. He couldn't understand what was happening or what I was trying to tell him through my sobs. He called my mom back and she explained the situation. Nothing else seemed to matter; nothing but my grandmother. I knew I had to be strong. I, the oldest of seven grandchildren, had to be the leader. About 20 minutes had passed since I heard the news. I was trying to calm myself down as we drove to the hospital where she stayed. The minutes seemed to speed by and every red light was too short. "I can't do this" I repeated over and over again in my head. "I'm not ready".
Soon enough we pulled into the parking garage of KU Medical Center. My knees were weak. My eyes were red from crying, and my breath was short. We took the elevator to the main floor and we walked to the front desk. I handed a well-dressed man with a smile my card to stamp. "What room number is Theresa Lawrence in?" I asked. He told me and we rushed to see her.
Walking through the halls made me nervous. "What will I say? How can I pretend to be okay for her? I can not break down." Thoughts consumed me. I had no plan. The elevator ride was silent, walking down the halls, silent. I held my breath as I entered her room. My brother was sitting on the chair, and my grandma was lying in her bed. No tears, no frowns, nothing, puzzled I made myself as comfortable as possible and waited.
She seemed fine, making jokes about the food and service, as usual. She was herself, not the sickly old woman I was picturing. This was my grandma. It became easier to talk to her. The lump in my throat was gone, at least until my cousins came in.
One by one they filed in, flashing fake smiles as if to say, "I'm okay". I could see through it. I'm sure my grandma could too. She made conversation, "How was your day? How's school? You eat yet today?" Nods and simple answers were all she received. How could we possibly think about anything other than the situation at hand?
We all waited to see who would be the first to lose it, though we wouldn't have to wait long. My cousin Daniel ran to my grandma's bedside and hugged her. He started to cry, so did the rest of us. My grandmother closed her eyes and let her tears fall down her face. She held his head and told us all she would fight this. "I'm a fighter now, you know that. I haven't let this get me down yet have I? I'm not going to start now." The pain we felt was unbearable. I felt my heart shatter as her words circled around in my mind. I repeated her words over and over again. "I'm a fighter, you know that." She is a fighter. This cannot bring her down.
I felt relieved as I walked out of her hospital room, despite the fact that she was fighting for her life. The important thing, I realized, is that she is fighting. But with faith, and willpower, we can beat the odds. We can beat the sickness.
The Last Goodbye
Anxiously I checked my text messages as we pulled into the parking lot of the funeral home. My hands were sweating, and I was fidgeting in my new black dress. Not because it was uncomfortable, but because I was uncomfortable. The car stopped and I took a deep breath as i reached for the door handle. My aunt and uncle had just pulled up beside us. With a friendly wave we both smiled, knowing inside the other was in sheer agony from the pain of our loss. I stepped out of the car and walked up to the crowd of my family i knew the most. Around us were smaller cliques. A few scattered friends of everyone walked and talked and hugged between the clans, seemingly trying to bring us all together. Some were family, some friends, but all were hurting.
“You look so beautiful” my great aunt Judy said as she walked over and hugged me close to her. I felt her whimper as she let her eyes fill up with tears.
“Thank you” I was trying hard to swallow the lump that was forming in my throat. “I am not ready for this” i thought silently. She pulled away, gave me a smile, and continued to welcome the others arriving. I glanced around for familiar faces. Or at least faces of people i actually liked. I saw my cousins and my aunt. They all looked so pretty. Ashley was tense, and very stressed. I don’t think we made eye contact, but I prayed for her at that moment.
“God give her strength, I know she needs you now, if not, more than ever”
As I looked around I saw many emotions being shown from everyone. Some were laughing and joking, I assume to hide the pain. Then there were others, either crying, or already had been. Some just stood quietly, giving simple nods. Everyone was awaiting our final goodbye.
My best friend Shelby had come, she was just as nervous as I it seemed, still sitting in her car.
“Come on Shane, let’s go get Shelby.”
That was my excuse to leave the stress of the situation at hand. We walked over to her car and she stepped out. Her red and blonde hair was delicately curled at the ends and she smiled big.
“My feet hurt!”
I glanced down and saw her shiny pat and leather heels peeking from underneath her black pants.
“I had to walk all over school like this, up and down stairs all day!”
We giggled and laughed. I could tell she was trying to lighten up the mood a little, and it worked.
All three of us walked over to the rest of the family and I introduced her to the people she had never met. She seemed nervous still, but played it off well. I was glad she came. I was glad Shane came
too. --That’s my support system. We joked a bit more and flashed more fake smiles until it was time to file into the funeral home.
Butterflies filled my stomach and my hands got clammy as I walked inside, closer and closer to the realization of the finale. People were signing their names in the guest books and adjusting their clothing as they walked into the room to find their seat. I’d been to a few funerals, and they had always made me uneasy. But this one was more than that.
As I entered the hall, a shorter man handed me a pamphlet and smiled. I politely said thank you and took another step forward. Shelby and Shane followed close behind. I opened my tiny booklet and read the words on the inside. I only got as far as the first line. “Theresa D Lawrence” and my eyes began to tear up. The lump in my throat grew bigger and harder to hide. My mind raced almost as fast as my heart did. “Grandma”
I can remember thinking over and over “This is it, this is the end.” It was so hard, so final. Now that they had cremated her, it was like there was no hope left. “She’s really gone.” That’s all I could allow myself to think. A taller man in a suit announced that he’d be holding another book for everyone to sign since there was so many of us left. His plan to speed things up worked. With two books going, we were making progress, not that I wanted to. I wanted to wake up in my bed and realize this was all just a dream. But the harsh reality hit me as I walked into the room. Family and friends gazed up at me as I walked down the aisle to my seat in the front.
I sat about four rows back, next to my mother. Shelby sat on my left and Shane on my right. The room was so quiet I could hear my own heart break. Tears started to fill my eyes again as I glanced to the front and saw her picture and her box of ashes. There were baskets of flowers around that people had sent. As if flowers could make up for the pain. They did look pretty though.
Forever seemed to pass before we got started. A small white haired lady spoke the normalcies of funerals and people all over sniffled and wiped their tears. My mind went fuzzy every so often, and I caught myself thinking about my grandmother. Just random memories. Memories that just a month ago seemed so simple, were now consuming me. Memories of her laugh, of things she used to say. They all tugged at my heart and I shed a few tears. I closed my eyes and thought to myself how sudden this all was. I tried to remember her voice, the way she smelled, her smile, but I was interrupted suddenly as Shane grabbed my hand. I gathered myself once again and glanced around. I saw Shelby next to me crying a little, though I pretended not to notice. I could feel her looking at me, and I pretended I didn’t notice that too.
I focused in on the woman’s words once again. She spoke with a tender harshness in her voice that intrigued me. Shortly after starting, they played the first song. Old Rugged Cross. I remember my grandpa saying my grandma loved that song just as her mother did. The song brought more tears to my eyes. Though I cried, I kept my chin from quivering as I tightened up my jaws. It was so hard to sit there and be strong, though I knew I must. Cries broke out all around the room. From young children, older family members, the pain of her death reached everyone very deeply.
What seemed like a lifetime passed, and the song was finally over. The woman jumped to her feet and began to speak again. She talked about how young my grandmother was. 53 was not a time to die. Her hair hadn’t even really begun to gray. She was young, still in her prime. She had a whole lifetime left. The woman preached for a little longer and they played another song, though I can’t, for the life of me remember what it was. That song went by faster than the first, but slower than I would have liked. I day dreamt of me sitting alone, in the first pew just staring at her picture. In my mind I could see my grandmother standing at the front crying for us, as we cried for her.
Soon enough, that song was over and the little old woman started talking again. This time about our family, and how lucky my grandma was to have had so many cares for her. She then started talking about my grandma’s husband, two sons, and seven grandchildren. Those memories are vague as well, due to the tears and streaming thoughts. I remember her saying something about a legacy that she left had to be carried on. The woman read a poem about motherhood, and as she read it, I stared at the backs of my grandfather, father and uncle’s heads. I imagined them as the characters in the poem, and it seemed to fit well.
Once the poem was over, the woman told the roomful of us how before the service, she’d asked my dad and uncle if there was anything they wanted brought up in her eulogy. They said they could recall memories of her, all throughout life, but in every memory she was strong. She will always be remembered as strong. She may have been a small woman, but she was a strong spirit.
I kept remembering the time where there was still this little glimmer of hope that I’d wake up and she's be there. That I’d walk in the house and she'd be sitting in her spot just laughing like always, But as I stared at her ashes, and as I sat thinking, I realized she's really gone. There is no hope, no coming back.
My grandpa said something about her that keeps replaying in my mind over and over again. I couldn’t help but to repeat it to myself as I sat reminiscing about her. My grandfather is not a religious man, and he never shows emotion so this was hard for me to hear. The lady that was speaking asked my grandpa the same question she asked my dad and uncle, was there anything he wanted her to say about my grandma, my grandpa paused for a second and said yes. The words he told her to say that day will never leave my mind. He said “When He took all the angels...he took mine.”
When the lady said his words in front of the whole room, my grandpa started to cry. This was the first time in my life I’d ever seen the man even be sad, and he cried? Only for a second, but that second and those few tears broke my heart. I sat there in the pews repeating those words over and over again. Making sure I was understanding her. As soon as the lady finished saying that line, my eyes went straight to my grandpa, about 3 rows up. I started to cry too, as I watched him double over and weep for her. He wiped his eyes with his handkerchief, and wiped his face clean of any evidence. I couldn’t help it, the tears just started pouring out, manifesting my sorrow.
That was probably the worst day of my life. Sitting in that room, looking up at my grandma's picture on the stand next to that little box. I tried to keep my mind from wrapping itself around the realization that those were her ashes in there, that that was her body. But it was, my once strong, hardheaded grandma, incinerated inside a small gray box. The same grandma that had been there for me my entire life was no longer herself. Only billions of tiny specks kept inside a gray tomb, infinite death.
The woman then said something that eased my pain, not completely, but a little. She told a story of when she was a child and her father was in the navy. At first I was quite irritated that she’d bring in her personal childhood stories at my grandma’s funeral. This wasn’t about her. But I soon saw where it fell into place. She went on to say that as her mother and she sat and watched her father’s ship depart, they’d say there he goes. But on the other side of the ocean, someone was saying here he comes. It was the same with my grandma. We were all mourning for her, saying there she goes. On the other side, she had people gathering around, saying here she comes.
It really did soothe me a little, just the fact that she wasn’t alone I suppose. No more hurt, or pain, or disappointment. Just utter bliss. And when it’s our time to go as well, our loved one’s here will be saying there she goes. I know my grandma will be on the other side saying here she comes.