Editor’s Column: Before It’s Gone



Shortly before I left for my semester abroad, my grandfather had a stroke. I went to see him for a weekend, and it scared me. “Happy Jack,” the man who would chat it up with any and every stranger until they had swapped life stories, was having trouble getting his words out. We went to look at a beautifully cultivated garden, but Grandpa, usually so energetic and full of life, quickly got tired and needed to sit down. I left for London, afraid that I would soon be rushing back.

When I returned from London, I found out that my grandmother on the other side of the family, my “memeré,” had had several small strokes since Thanksgiving. Then, in January, she had three more in the course of one evening. She was admitted to the hospital and had a few more small strokes there. I was sitting next to her, showing her pictures from London, one of the times. Afterwards, I quipped that she’d discovered a great method of aversion therapy, but it was one of the scariest moments of my life. Just a few hours after finally being discharged, she had another stroke and fell. She only returned to her apartment a few days ago, but she gets tired too easily now to really take care of herself. I once again left for school afraid of what might happen while I was away.

My other grandmother is currently undergoing radiation – she started on the day my grandfather had heart surgery, while my memeré was still in the hospital.

The horrible thing is, I’m lucky. I remember one of my friends bursting into tears on the playground in kindergarten, because so many of her relatives had passed away recently. Plenty of people lose most or all of their grandparents before graduating from high school. And, occasionally, someone’s parent will pass away long before his or her time. I was fortunate to lose only one grandparent at an early age.

But I was so young when that grandfather died that I never really felt like I knew him. There has always been more at stake with these other three grandparents. They’re the ones with the embarrassing stories about my parents, aunts and uncles, the ones that would surprise me by showing up for my plays and concerts, the ones who sometimes remember more about my life than my parents, the ones that are probably prouder of me than I deserve. They have always been a stable part of my life, so I’ve never really considered life without them. Recent events have reminded me that they are only human.

Maybe all these unfortunate situations just make me even luckier. You never appreciate what you have until it’s gone, right? My grandparents aren’t exactly the robust, healthy people of their youths, but they’re still here. For all I know, they could still live to see that great-grandchild my grandpa keeps encouraging my sister to cook up. But even if they don’t, I’m so grateful for all the love and memories they have given me.