Backbone, Guts, and Heart

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Strength. The quality or state of being strong, physical power and energy. This definition is true, but it is not complete. Being physically strong is one form of strength, but it’s not the only type. In a thesaurus, the first words you’ll find are similar to power, brawn, and muscle. Three quarters down the page, words like resilience, spirit, and backbone appear. These are the words I’m relating to, inner strength. The way I view it, strength is more of a mental characteristic than a physical one. It’s having the ability to do what you know is right, not necessarily what everyone else is doing. To be able to keep your head high after a tough experience, pushing yourself to try harder when really, it would just be easier to give up. That’s the type I’m talking about, strength of character.
One of the most painful incidents I’ve ever experienced was the death of my grandmother Chrissy. Cancer took her away from me on a cold day in September when I was twelve years old. She was a fighter all the way to the end, and my greatest role model of strength. She was the perfect example of mental toughness because she was a very delicate and petite person, not the type you’d see on the front of a bodybuilding magazine. When cancer began to take over her life, I knew she was not going down without a battle. After a year of chemotherapy, life was looking good for her. Aside from having no hair, her tumors were all shrinking and there was no sign of new growth.
That wonderful Christmas she visited dressed as an elf, and that’s exactly what she resembled with her dainty figure and gleaming baldhead. It was without a doubt, the best Christmas ever. She had more energy and excitement than I can ever remember. She was the first one up on Christmas morning, even before my brother, sister, and me, which is hard to believe. Our eyes jerk open, by nature, at four A.M. That Christmas was like a utopia, it was beyond imaginable. You could sense the cheerful flow that traveled through the air as we gathered around the crackling fire to open presents. It was a picture perfect moment, the kind you’d find in holiday movies or in fictional books. It was absolute perfection. As we tore away layer after layer of wrapping paper, we soon found we’d been given everything we wanted this Christmas. Most importantly, we were rewarded with our grandmother. Little did we know that this would be one of the last cherished memories we’d share with her.
It seemed like Chrissy had exerted the remains of her energy that Christmas, for from that point on, things began going down hill again. Cancer had struck once more, but this time at full tilt. Tumors spread through her brain as quickly as a secret in a room full of chatterboxes. Her energy was draining; her motor skills were deteriorating, leaving her to maneuver in a wheelchair. She looked smaller than ever. I could almost see straight through to her bones. It was a sad sight, and not the way I wanted to remember my young and lively grandmother.
One day, my mom received a call from my grandfather, Pop-Pop-Scott. He said that Chrissy wasn’t doing so well, and he thought we should come and visit her. I didn’t like the sound of that and couldn’t face the fact that we were nearing the end of the battle. That Friday after school, as I stood frozen in the crisp air waiting for my ride, surrounded by the warmth of my friends, I couldn’t help feeling like the loneliest person on the planet. When my dad arrived with my brother in the backseat, I slumped into his white pick up truck, and we began our silent four-hour drive to DuBois, Pennsylvania. My sister and my mom had made the long trip the day before, and from what I understood, served as Chrissy’s nurses during their visit. When we pulled into the solitary driveway leading up to their countryside home, I felt an unfamiliar nervousness. I’d visited my grandparents’ house plenty of times; it was the perfect summer excursion, but this visit was different. It held a more serious meaning, something I’d never forget.
As I walked into the familiar home and toward my grandparent’s bedroom, I felt a bit uneasy. Then I saw her, my grandmother. I almost didn’t recognize her at first. She was propped up on her bed, her eyes closed, and all color in her face drained. I cautiously walked over to her side, and whispered hello to her. I watched as she twitched at the sound of my voice. I hugged her and kissed her cheeks; then I sat on the bed with her and held tight to her icy hands. And so the rest of the night went, my family and I at her side, every one of us scared to look away from her frail body for even a moment. There came a time when my parents urged us to go to bed. We showered Chrissy in more hugs, kisses and I-love-you’s and then said good night. My sister walked over to Pop-Pop-Scott and said, “I love you too, ya Old Fart.” As we all giggled at the silly nickname we’d bestowed on him years back, a faint smile curled Chrissy’s lips upward, and crinkles appeared at the sides of her eyes. I had an unwelcome feeling that this would be the last smile we’d ever see on her pretty little face.
I woke up the next morning to the faint buzz of the TV in the living room. I stumbled over to the couch with my brother and sister, and we sat there for a little while, figuring it would be like any other stay. The grown-ups would sleep for another hour, while we stayed quiet and entertained ourselves until then. When the door opened, and my parents came in, I knew this wasn’t the case. They had something to tell us, it was written on their despondent faces. “Chrissy passed away last night, guys,” my dad began. I could tell my mom didn’t want to hear this. “She stayed strong and held tight just to see you. Once she’d seen the people that meant the most to her, she knew it was her time to go.” Even though I knew this fate was coming, it was hard for me to comprehend. My grandmother was gone? I’d never see her again? Through all of this anguish, I found myself returning to the fact that she’d kept her heart beating just to see us. It was her mental strength that wouldn’t allow her to die without seeing her family one last time. Even when her physical strength was the weakest it’s ever been, her mental strength was the strongest. I may never see my greatest role model before my eyes again, but I will always have Chrissy along with her strong will engraved in my heart.
My grandmother serves as a perfect demonstration of the fact that even the smallest person can possess more strength than the biggest. It may not mean bearing bulky muscles, but it does mean owning a strong heart and having the ability to do what is right. How strong you appear on the outside has no effect on your mental strength. That person that bench-presses two hundred and fifty pounds might not have the mental strength to overcome failing a major test, or that hefty line backer might not be able to handle losing the state championship. Being physically strong and fit is very important, but in my opinion mental strength has a greater value in the long run. It will help you through every conflict in life and will push you to be your best, but it is not just a characteristic that is endowed upon you one day. You have to have the desire and determination to initiate your mental strength. If you practice using it during those everyday challenges life throws at you, you will get stronger.





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