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A Determined Woman This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

Everyday that I would walk into my grandmother's house, I was immediately overcome by the dark atmosphere that awaited me. What was once such a peaceful place had now been claimed by the darkness that existed there. I could see it trying to take her, too. The darkness tried to take my grandmother from me. Decades of smoking had finally caught up with her. The collective packages of cigarettes now took residence in her throat in the cruelest ways that they could imagine, eradicating the red blood cells and with that, my grandmother's joy. I can still hear it, if I think back. I can still hear that tangible spirit of death, ticking in the form of a clock, almost louder than the darkness.

It took my grandmother's diagnosis of Stage IV larynx cancer before I realized what a selfish person that I am. I knew that she was in an unfathomable amount of pain. After all, I could feel the pain dripping out of her every time that I was in the room with her. No matter how much more pain she went through, I still thought way too much of myself. Life without my grandmother was always an impossibility for me. After my father committed suicide when I was only eight, my grandmother was the only person to be consistently active in the lives of me and my immediate family members. She took it on herself to fill the space that my dad had left in my life, and she had done it so well. She was a puzzle piece that put my family back together again. Although I have never said it to her, she was always the perfect father to me. It was so painful to even visit my grandmother when she was going through her cancer because I could see the side-effects of death everywhere. The wretched smell of death and the black fog that it encased over my body when I was in that house reminded me that I might have to lose her. I might have to watch my grandmother die. I couldn't do it. I couldn't lose my father again. I begged God not to let her leave me. Every time that I said a prayer to God I asked if I could keep my grandmother, if only for one more day. For a long time, I was too selfish to even realize how selfish that I was being. I know without a shadow of a doubt the moment that God convicted me for my selfishness. One day that I was visiting my grandmother, she was in a great deal of pain. Her chest was burned severely from her radiation treatments, which were now halfway over. Her throat was in such pain that talking was an impossibility for her, and she was so lethargic that walking was also. I'll never forget sitting by her bedside while she took one of my hands into two of her own frail, burnt hands. Her eyes were solemn raindrops that were so distant from her body, but so connected to her soul. Those solemn raindrops looked right into my own eyes and whispered with a pained voice that was no longer her own, “I'm fighting for you. I am alive for you.”

I fought the tears as they pulled the selfishness that I had become out of my body, but the tears fought harder. With every teardrop, I could feel me losing myself, and giving my grandmother back to God. I thought I was losing my grandmother, but what I finally had to realize that she was never mine to claim ownership of anyway. I didn't want my grandmother to fight for me anymore. If she decided to fight, I wanted it to be for her. I couldn't be responsible for the torment that she was living in. She said that she was alive for me, but she wasn't. She wasn't alive at all then. She was existing for me. She was just existing in a world where all of the elements of the earth had turned against her, and had transformed into just a helpless kitten in an arctic blizzard. Surely life after death would be such a kinder fate to endure rather than being dead while alive.

The most important decision I made while my grandmother was battling her cancer was to consciously realize that I was not in control, nor had I ever been. In my fear of losing her, I held on so tightly that I did more damage than good. My grandmother continued to fight after I let go of my fear, but this time, I knew that she was fighting for herself. She was fighting because that is what people who are blessed with the gift of long-suffering do. When death tries to step in and take over their life, they grit their teeth right in the face of death and refuse to go down without a fight. Today, my grandmother still faces life with that bare-knuckled determination that she did only months ago when she was battling the cancer. Nearly one-hundred pounds lighter and only just now beginning to grow hair again, she still wears the scars that cancer left on her life. Sometimes I would like to take those scars and make them disappear. Then again, what are any of us worth without our scars?




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