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The Love Within My Heart
Burning sun in my eyes obnoxiously awakening me as the bus pulled to a screeching halt, 'The Summer's over kids, welcome home.' The bus counselor sighed. I groaned, already missing the lazy days of my beloved Camp Starlight. I slid giant Chanel sunglasses on to cover my sleepy eyes, and sauntered off the bus. In blissful oblivion, little did I know that the end of dreamy summer and runny eyeliner would be the least of my problems as I once again entered the harsh real world.
Post-camp reunions were always bitter sweet, and it had been a tradition for my family consisting of my mother, my younger sister, Sylvie, and me, to go to a pizza parlor for mouth-watering Italian food. As much as I dreaded leaving camp, I yearned for not only pizza but for the comfort of happily telling my summer adventures to my mother. Something just felt off, my mom's smile was not purely one of joy, which it had been for the past five years of my returning from sleep away camp, except for the summer she announced that she had Thyroid cancer. I sat on the cold hard wooden bench, famished, and narcissistically glanced at my blurred reflection in the metal napkin holder. Mom sat down and her eyes jolted nervously, she breathed in, getting ready to say the impossible: 'Girls, Grandpa is in the hospital.'
'Welcome back home!' I selfishly thought to myself, I couldn't help it; it was a teenage reflex, defiance against the cruel harsh world, the life altering six-letter word cancer. C-A-N-C-E-R was a word I had grown to know very well over the past two years, my Grandma and mother were both diagnosed and in remission. Cancer had grown to mean a struggle, but nothing lethal. It was a mixture of keeping hope up and hiding from the truth that made my mother's words numb, meaning nothing more initially than the annoyance of not being able to see my grandpa for dinner that night. I was in denial, when he was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer this past December; I thought he would be cured, like my Mom and Grandma were. When I clicked away on the computer and found that there was a less than 2% survival rate, I simply thought 'I'm positive that stupid freaking medical website is inaccurate. Ignore it. Ignore it! IGNORE IT!!'
I closed my eyes on that car ride back to my house and thought happy thoughts of Grandpa being with me for years to come, helping me pick out my first car for my sixteenth birthday, dancing that father daughter dance with me at my wedding, meeting his great-grandchildren. I repeated to myself 'it's okay Jocelyn, he's not going to die. He's not going to die.'
He wasn't just one of those typical grandparents who just visited, showered gifts, and blew goodbye kisses. Grandpa was basically my father. When I was three on a family trip to Brussels, my beloved stuffed rabbit, missing one eye, fluff oozing out of hole in the soft highly loved fabric, was trapped in a monstrous revolving door. I yelped and cried shrieking 'Quie rabbit, Quie rabbit!' Grandpa immediately came to the rescue, gently tugging the stuffed animal out of the claws of the door, stopping the pulsing traffic of anxious vacationers moving through. As he brought back my animal I looked up, eyes wide with joy and admiration and said: 'Grandpa I love you. You're my hero!'
He was always there filling the empty void in my heart when my father left for good, only to visit occasionally. I didn't feel like I was missing much when my dad slammed the door and didn't come back until after a year of living in Europe, when he married with out inviting me to the wedding. I glamorized it, talking about how fabulous it was that I had a father with multiple houses in exotic European countries, which was factually true, but regardless it didn't actually matter. I had grandpa, and grandpa had me.
Grandpa was everything my father was not, everything I yearned for in a father, I had in my grandfather. He found immense amounts of joy in taking care of his family, making sure his children and my sister and I had everything we could dream of materialistically, but it was more than our shopping sprees and lovely vacations. It was his clam, soothing voice, during the times he did speak, he was a man of few words, because he was always listening to what his loved ones had to say, especially my beloved grandmother. In elementary school, at least twice a week we would go for early morning breakfasts to the Diner. I can remember sitting and sipping sweet hot coca, talking about life, school, and learning multiplication facts with Grandpa. During those moments I felt so loved, so important, someone really cared about listening to what little fifth grade me had to say.
A rush of past memories came to surface as I exited the car one sticky August morning to meet my grandfather at the Pancake House. I was ecstatic, grandpa had been released from the hospital, and things were going to go back to normal. I embraced my grandfather when I saw him, he looked gaunt and weak, but a huge smile spread across his face. He started to dance jokingly singing 'I am so happy I'm not in the hospital, I'm going to have pancakes with my favorite girls!' When we sat and drizzled Blueberry syrup over our pancakes that morning it was as if no sickness was plaguing our lives. Grandpa didn't want to talk about himself; he wanted to hear about my sister's summer, my summer. That day wasn't hiding from the truth, it was becoming immersed in the joy that life and grandpa brought.
Unfortunately, the joy was merely temporary, when I was told one morning that Grandpa was back in the hospital again, I was angry. It felt like such a tease that he came back; my moral was highly boosted only to splat on the ground once more. Now, I can look back and view that last meeting for breakfast as the one last true time we were together doing the thing he loved, watching his family eating and being happily provided for. Family meals were his favorite thing, he loved for us all to get together whether at the country club or at the diner to eat and laugh. That was the last time I shared a meal with grandpa, the family table feels empty now when we sit together, I wait for grandpa to arrive.
But that's an impossible fantasy of mine, because the grim truth of it is that as the weeks passed, he got progressively worse. I watched in horror, as the strong man I loved, my favorite person grew weaker. I tried to eliminate the harrowing thought of his near death from my mind. When you love someone deeply you take the risk that you are going to loose them one day. As a little girl I thought grandpa would magically live forever, as I grew older I started to wonder: 'when would Grampie die?' in a paranoid way. Now I knew how he was going to pass away, I knew it was soon, but the question was: when?
I knew it was coming, and I knew that if I didn't say a true goodbye I would regret it for the rest of my life. I sat words pouring our of my heart, mascara smudging down my face, tears streaming leaving puddles of misery, anger, but mostly love. The result was a letter, which still brings me to tears every time I read it.
I despise hospitals, blood, and everything about seeing wires and tubes hanging from anyone, especially someone I am close with. So, as I walked up to the intimidating building, holding my father's hand, my heart was pulsing rapidly, I was dizzy. My grandfather's sickness ironically brought my father back into my life. I walked down the cold linoleum floors towards my family outside his hospital room, and saw my grandmother trying to stifle her tears, I saw my uncle looking miserable. As I walked into the room, I braced myself for the worst; I was expecting gore and sickness that's presented in those melodramatic hospital shows. But, when I saw grandpa, I didn't see an ill cancer ridden stranger, I saw my same grandfather. My love, let me look beyond what was actually present, I saw the same strong man.
He was too weak to fully respond to me, but I know he heard my words. I read him the letter I wrote: 'Dear Grandpa, this is a letter just for you, something to hold within your heart forever, just a sheet of paper, doing the impossible, expressing the love I feel for you, so close your eyes and relax as you listen.' I managed to approach this first sentence with confidence but as I continued my voice began to quiver: 'I love you from the bottom of my heart; no words are strong enough to voice how much I cherish every moment we have shared over the past fifteen years.' As I continued, I began to cry once more, I felt horrible showing Grandpa that I was thinking of his death. But, my grandma said 'Oh Harvey, how beautiful is this letter? Jossie it's okay, you can cry.' I breathed in deeply, gaining some level of composure, and finished 'Grandpa, I'm sorry if I have made it sound this way, but this is not goodbye, this is just the beginning, I will take you with me on all of life's journeys, forever carrying lessons of integrity, generosity, but most importantly your love within my heart.'
That wasn't my last visit with Grandpa, I continued to visit, at times straining to keep a smile spread across my face until my mouth ached. He was moved to a hospice, a signal that his time here on earth was coming to an end. I walked into the yellow colored building of the hospice, laughing at the burning irony that such a hideous place was such a cheery color. I knew this was the last time I would see my grandfather. I walked into his room alone, his eyes were closed, and he looked so incredibly peaceful. I sat with him, laughing, crying, and praying that he knew I was next to him. I took his hand and intertwined his warm fingers with mine, that was the last time I felt my Grandfather's warmth, but now he lives on within my heart.