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A Hero Goes to Heaven
Wake up. Get dressed. Drive to school. Manage to stay awake through four classes. Go home. Eat. Shower. Do homework. Sleep. Wake up. Survive another day.
My alarm ritually rings at 6:21am. It’s Wednesday, March 5, 2008…just your ordinary day. Lucky me, I get to go pay my first traffic ticket. Well, at least I get to leave school early…
Second period…Mrs. M €¦yuck! As I begin to doze off, I feel a slight vibration on my chest. I deviously remove the phone from my pocket while oblivious Mrs. M continues to ramble on about cotangents. Luckily, I mastered the art of texting while in the first row, third seat, so close to Mrs. M €™s desk I could hear her blink, in the first semester. So while carefully tilting my exquisite brown and white plaid kilt over my cell phone, I read, “One new message from I.C.E. Mommy.” I ignore it.
Knock! Knock! Mrs. E opens the door. “Ashley, can you please come with me to the office to check out?” Without hesitation, I rise from my desk. As I am reaching down for my school bag Alexa asks, “Is everything okay with your Grandpa?” My first and only thought was What an absurd question, of course he’s okay. I don’t respond to her. I remember the casual conversation Mrs. E and I engaged in as we walked down the hall. Not thinking for a second that anything could be wrong.
“Oh, do you have a little sister at Mt. Carmel?”
“Nope, that’s my cousin, but she looks just like me.”
And now, finally, we are in front of the office. Mrs. E abruptly pushes the doors open. And there she is. My mom. Standing front and center. She’s a wreck, a complete and utter disaster. I notice my Aunt Dana off to the left. Their faces say it all. He’s dead.
My world comes to a rapid halt. Everything goes black. My head drops. I become aware of the tears that have begun to stream down my face. I can’t breathe. There is no air in this place. Paranoia consumes me. I run past my mom, out through the glass doors that lead into the office. Outside. Oxygen. I inhale. And then, reality sets in. I cry. I bawl. I weep and whimper. I attempt to conceal my face with my hands. I feel exposed. I loathe crying in front of other people. I am hysterical. I hate to feel weak. I can’t even begin to fathom the weakness my Grandpa has endured since he was diagnosed with that evil avarice we call cancer.
I have calmed down now, but my eyes are still shut. With Sister’s guiding, gentle, comforting hand on my shoulder, I recognize my mom’s voice, “Do you want to go to the hospital?” I can not speak. This is not happening. This can not be my reality. Sister repeats my mom’s words, “Do you want to go to the hospital? Do you want to see his body?” His body? These words seem so harsh. I manage to murmur, “Yes.”
Grandpa had been admitted to the hospital on our beloved Valentine’s Day when I was away on junior retreat. I had spent more time at Oschner the next two months than I had at home. I had gone after school, after ACT class, and I had woken up early to go on weekends. I had constructed my schedule around the times the hospital permitted ICU patients to have visitors. As I walked down the hall to his room, I hear nothing. Chaos is occurring around me, but for me it is dead silence. I feel woozy and light headed. I see Raymond, my cousin and my Grandpa’s only grandson, standing outside of the ghastly hospital room. I begin to dread walking into a room that is completely lifeless. This was a different room than I had visited last night. My Grandpa had resided in what seemed like a million rooms since he had been diagnosed about a year ago. In and out of a hospital is no way to live especially for a zealous and vivacious man like my Grandpa. I knew that hospital like the back of my hand. It was just last night that I had stood next to his bed with his hand in mine, like always, when I said to him, “I love you.” For only a mere moment I watched him struggle to speak. He was too weak. “It’s okay. I know.” An expression of relief fell over his face. And it was okay. I did know. He loved me.
Raymond walks to me and embraces me. I hear a door shut. I look up and there is my dad. Not frantic, not crying, he was composed and he was smiling. My dad is not what you would call a “tough guy”, but he is a man I have never seen cry, even to this day.
As I entered that treacherous room, I could have never prepared myself for what was now placed before me. There was my Grandpa, lying there inert. My Grandma mourning him. Devastation cut through the air in that room like a knife through water. She was kissing him, not on his cheek, not on his hand, but on his lips.
My entire family, all sixteen of us, gathered in that miniscule hospital room and for the first time in a long time our problems were set aside. We held hands around the hospital bed my Grandpa lay in. We prayed. We prayed the Our Father. And when I looked at my Grandpa, he was smiling.
I still miss him and I always will. There is no doubt that when he left, he took an immense part of me with him. But I cannot imagine the person I would be today if I had never had the honor, the blessing, and the privilege to be taught, respected, and loved by such a marvelous man, a true hero, my Grandpa.