“Four generations, reduced to three.” The phrase kept replaying. Tears skipped down my face while I attempted to quiet trembling hands. I lugged the carry on bags over my shoulder and encouraged Nikolai to keep up.
Grief is a funny thing, it likes to bring back memories to intensify pain. “Do you remember when Niki asked you to book a flight so he could ride in an airplane?” Grief asked with a snicker. A scene of my son standing in the kitchen less than a week prior popped into my brain to twist the blade that was already impaling my heart. He wanted to go on vacation.
“This isn’t what either of us had in mind” I mumble to no one in particular.
I had tucked my laptop between bare essentials in my backpack but I couldn’t find strength to pull it out. Once we reached our terminal and finally settled in after boarding, I leaned back into my assigned seat on the airplane feeling hopeful sleep might come to me this time. It didn’t. Instead, an outline of the blog post I wasn’t ready to write was being narrated by an unknown force from within.
Four generations, reduced to three. What is it about holiday’s and tragedies? The day after I found out about my grandmother’s cancer… I scrounged up some change to buy my favorite tea to sip while I sat in the parking lot looking for flights. I ran into a wonderful friend of mine before I even made it to the counter. The look on her face told me something was wrong and I knew she needed to talk.
“The doctor found cancer in my uterus.”
Grief was laughing at me again. She could hardly get the words to leave her lips. She hadn’t been able to bring herself to tell her own children but somehow… she she chose to tell me. One of my best friends died of cancer on Christmas day last year. My grandfather also passed away around Christmas time. There I was connecting my cell phone to the coffee shop WiFi to book flights when an overwhelming sense of deja-vu slammed into me. All because another friend was sick and one of my favorite people seemed to be next.
I wanted to hug her close before leaving to soothe us both but she wouldn’t let me. The fear of breaking down in front of her employees weighed heavily. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I could keep it together myself. When I made my way back to my car I slipped into the drivers seat to sob where no one would see me. Life is unfair. As the minuets ticked by, I reminded myself that I would have to man up soon in order to relay the information about my grandmother to my son for the first time.
How do you explain the gravity of sickness and finality of death to a seven year old? Farm life taught me well but I still wasn’t prepared for this. I held my boy in my arms and listened to him gasp for air while his shoulders rattled against my rib cage as he wept. Who would I call when I couldn’t remember the list of ingredients to a recipe? Who would I talk to after having an argument with my mom? Who was going to be able to tell me stories about our family history?
She helped raise me when my mom was too young to be a mom. She kissed my skinned knees, taught me how to compost, instilled my love of roses and all things floral. I’ve watched her since I was a baby in the early morning hours just before sunlight graced the earth as she gingerly turned the pages of a well-worn leather Bible. She was the one who taught me the most about faith and forgiveness.
In my darkest hour when I had a brush with death, my grandma called me around two in the morning to tell me that I was in her thoughts and on her heart. She gave me sermons over the years not with words, but by the way she’s lived her life. Whenever she knew I needed comfort… I was given a front row seat to her private conversations with Jesus. My flight to see her was made so I could hold her hand before surgery in case I had to say goodbye.
I wanted to see her smile and hear her laugh more than I wanted to fly out for a funeral. Unfortunately, nothing brings out the worst in family quite like a crisis. A group chat between cousins, aunts, and uncles wouldn’t stop chiming with notifications from my cell. Petty arguments ensued about who knew her best, who was the closest to her, and how to handle her medical care. The saga overshadowed the gravity of the situation.
I woke up early to prepare the farm for my absence. I soaked feed buckets for Harlow (my horse), I threw extra hay to our donkey and I tossed plenty of scratch to fill the bellies of our flock. Rob (my husband) was making the drive home from another state to take over for me while I was gone. He had been fixing a life-flight helicopter when I told him I needed his help.
In the red beams of my vehicle’s tail lights, I tackled chores and tried to remind myself to breathe. Yet after loading luggage into the trunk, when I went to shut the gate… I heard a crunching sound. It didn’t take long to realize my cell phone had slipped into the pathway of the latch. All of my itinerary information, my contacts for traveling, and my banking apps vanished moments before I had a flight to catch. Pure panic set in.
Thankfully Nikolai had an emergency cell phone on hand which I was able to use in a pinch. The family bickering came to a halt and I like to think God knew I needed a break. Instead of reading messages that made my stomach churn, my focus was exactly where it needed to be… on seeing her.
Half asleep and standing on the curb outside the phoenix airport, my brother pulled us into a much needed bear hug. After a five hour layover and a full day of travel, Nikolai couldn’t keep his head from nodding off. We crashed on my big, little brother’s sofa. The next morning Austin (my brother) took us out for breakfast and replaced my cell phone with a shiny new one.
180 miles and one left turn until I finally set foot on the ranch my grandparent’s had built together. With nothing more than love and a dream it was encompassed by an eerie dense cloud of fog. I couldn’t help hearing echos of hoof beats from horses I once loved. I could almost smell the ripe tomatoes I use to pull off the vine inside my Papa’s greenhouse and feel the acidic juice as it dripped off my chin. I thought about the Rough Collies we raised and summers spent dodging monsoons. Four generations and the desert would probably reclaim the land we borrowed.
The small town hospital hardly looked like a hospital at all. We almost passed it up before turning into the parking lot. “She has three types of cancer.” The doctor said when I finally had a moment to speak with him. I tried to swallow the lump in my throat and process everything he was attempting to tell me.
A tumor in her abdomen, colon cancer, and a tumor near the main artery next to her heart. I stood outside her room trying to catch my breath. I hate the smell of sterile environments. Three kinds of cancer, three generations. My eye lids were puffy from sobs I couldn’t contain, my soul felt defeated, and all I wanted more than anything else was another ten years with her.
Being faithful requires the ability to put your fears away so God can carry them for you. While I was terrified, my grandma was filled with peace. She opened her Bible before surgery the same way she did every morning. She looked weak and frail but her spirit was full of strength. She wanted to live. She always told me that one of her big goals in life was to make it to her one hundredth birthday.
As a family we sat in the hospital cafeteria nervously playing board games while we waited for an update. Someone won, someone lost, and I couldn’t concentrate. I wanted to hide in my little house tucked away between mountains among the forest.
Sometimes the hopelessness in life gives you tunnel vision. When it’s too painful to hope for something better, you stop trying. You lean into what you think is inevitable and you miss the miraculous events unfolding before your eyes.
I was the second person to see her after surgery. I kissed her hands and bossed the nurses around to keep my beautiful grandmother comfortable. I made sure she had the best nausea medicine. I fluffed her pillows, filled a Styrofoam cup with ice chips, and wrote our phone numbers on the white board in case anything changed.
She was lively, her eyes were mischievous, and she laughed! The charge nurse slipped in to check on us. He was a balding man who called her “young lady” which made her scoff.
“I’m going to climb ALL the stairs in Bisbee.” She stated with a matter of fact.
The nurse looked to me with amusement. “Don’t you think you should try to heal first?”
“I will heal and then I’m going to live. I’m going to travel to see my kids and I’m going to hike the stairs in Bisbee. You don’t have to believe me, but I’m going to do it.”
“She’s not joking. She’s the toughest woman I know and she means what she says. She’ll do it.” I said with a smile.
Miracles happen all the time, even when it feels as if there is no way out. The surgeon who told us to expect the worst… removed all of the cancer in her body with the exception of the one near her heart. Not only is my grandmother recovering, she’s thriving and we get as much time with her as God will allow.
My friend at the coffee shop had a complete hysterectomy. Her tumor ended up being benign. Her wonderful children get to keep their mother and she didn’t end up in need of chemo or radiation treatments. She’s back to working part time while she recovers.
Miracles happen, sometimes you just need faith.
Notes from the Author:
A lot of things have happened in my life the past two months that forced me to put my blog on the back burner for a little bit. I had to prioritize my family, my friends, and my farm but I never gave up on writing. I had to give myself grace for not being able to do it all and handle one crisis at a time. I hope you’ll forgive me for being away so long! I’m still sorting out how to juggle things better and the more I write, the more you’ll understand why those things happen sometimes. I love my fellow bloggers so much. I can’t wait to get caught up with the friendships I’ve made here so I can nourish them again. All my love,