I avoided this prompt because I couldn’t think of something happy to write on this theme. But sometimes the hard lessons are the best.
The most difficult farewell of my life was saying good-bye to my grandmother. My grandmother was only 40 years older than I am. If life had gone well for her she might still be with us. After all, many people make it to 85 these days. However, she died of breast cancer not long after I graduated from college.
I was very close to my grandmother. She was sane, nurturing, reliable and positive in a family which tends to lack those features. It didn’t hurt that she absolutely doted on me. I wrote my first letter to her and she kept it taped to her closet mirror for the rest of her life. She told me once she thought I would be famous and that my letters would amount to something.
In the course of my life I wrote many letters to my grandmother. Her cancer was diagnosed 5 years before she died. Those were hard years but her illness brought me closer to her. I spent half my senior year in college living and studying in Paris but I wrote to her nearly every week and phoned as often as I could afford. Knowing she was dying made me conscious of appreciating all my time with her in a way young people often neglect to do.
Grandma made it to my college graduation. She was weak and had trouble getting about but her joy in the event was so absolute. The funniest thing that happened was when she wandered through my university apartment and came out of the bathroom announcing that one of my roommates was “on the pill.” She seemed pleased, as if she had caught someone doing something naughty. I was surprised that that my roommate would leave her birth control lying around so I checked it out. “Sorry to disappoint you,” I told her. “That is Sudafed.” I don’t know why we both got such a kick out of this. I guess it was our way of crossing the generation gap.
That June I started medical school, so I didn’t see much of my grandmother. She became increasingly ill with painful bone metastases and diabetes (likely due to pancreatic mets). I visited her over my winter break that year. I don’t remember the details of our last days together but I think we both understood that it might be the last time we saw each other. When we said good-bye before I left for the airport we acted as if it was a normal leave-taking but we both knew it was probably for good.
About a month later I got the call that my grandmother had hemorrhaged and had died shortly after arriving at the hospital. Although I felt a profound sense of loss, and still do, I knew I had said my good-byes and that my grandmother knew how much I loved her. I was able to let her go with a sense of completeness. I wish she could have known my husband and my kids, but I know that what we had together was enough.