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A Simple Exchange of Words

It was a simple exchange of words that took no more than a couple of minutes.

Yet somehow the brief interaction with my grandma has affected me more emotionally than any experience in the past couple of years.

“Happy Birthday, Grandma.”

I called to wish her a happy birthday as she had done for me so many times in the past.  Only this time she was in the hospital; 1,500 miles away in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

She has cancer.

What makes it more difficult is that it’s centralized in her pelvic region, meaning there is no definite area for doctor’s to focus the treatment.  Now, the decision to undergo chemotherapy at age 85 lies in her hands.

It’s difficult to describe, but as we spoke her tone was different.  It sounded tired and weary, yet somehow still optimistic.  Not hearing her typical jovial voice over the telephone, asking me how my life is going seemed abnormal and rather melancholy.  It’s different when she asks because it always feels genuine; because she really cares.  It’s not like some business networking event or seeing a random friend from high school where small talk ensues solely out of obligation.

She doesn’t judge me or what I do.  She only wants to see me happy, doing something, anything that I love.

It brought tears to my eyes as I hung up the phone.

I feel helpless.
I feel blessed.
I feel grateful to have such a caring, loving, and remarkable person in my life.

I also feel regret.

There is remorse in my heart that I haven’t taken the time to really get to know my Grandma.  We’ve had a few moments, interspersed here and there, where we connect on a deeper level.  She would tell me tales of her childhood and what it was like growing up during the depression in a large Catholic family.  Hearing first-hand personal experiences blows any story from a history book out of the water.  I only wish I could have heard more.

When I think of it, I haven’t taken the time to really get to know any of my family.

For some reason, when I was younger, my grandfather opened up to me about his experiences in WWII.  I remember one particular instance when I was doing a report in middle school.  He shared stories and information with me that he rarely shared with anyone.

I was dumb and naïve at the time and hid the report from my mom and family because I was a stupid brat.  Now all of that information is gone; lost on a computer we threw away years ago.  Anecdotes, personal insights, and firsthand accounts of what my Grandfather experienced in WWII – gone.  My grandfather died over 4 years ago, taking those stories with him.

It’s odd how such a short, random exchange of words on a normal Saturday morning can stir up such a visceral response.  Vivid memories and thoughts that once lay dormant begin rising from the depths of my mind.

It only solidifies my belief that it’s not the stuff in our lives that makes it all worthwhile.  It’s the adventures, the experiences, the challenges, and most importantly – the people.

It’s never too late to build upon a relationship and really get to know someone; especially family.  They are a bridge to our past and most likely the ones who will be there for us in the future.

The family.  We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together. 
            – Erma Bombeck

All it takes is a little time and a very important yet undervalued skill: listening.

Don’t fall into the same trap so many of us often do; appreciate everything and everyone you have… before it’s gone.

 

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Comments

  1. I definitely had that same realization a few years ago with my grandparents! They have so many stories and you really have to make it a point to ask about them because they don’t come up in a regular conversation. Hope your trip goes well in Costa Rica!

    • Thanks Lauren, you’re right about making an effort to evoke the story telling nature of our elders. It’s east to overlook the fact that they have lived a full life in which they’ve accumulated an abundance of knowledge that can be shared through anecdotes; discussing failures, triumphs, and lessons to be learned.

      P.S. The trip was amazing!

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