Two months before it happened, I asked my dad a question.
We were driving down Nall Avenue in my dad’s 2000 blue Ford Explorer. We were coming home from the golf course after playing 18 holes. I didn’t think much of it.
“Dad, don’t you think Grandma will live for a long time?”
He smiled. He nodded.
The phone rings. My mom answers the phone, the caller ID reads Leslie Mika—my aunt. She hesitates, but decides to answer it. Her eyebrows knit and her mouth begins to open.
“Grandma is in the hospital.”
I turn and glance at my brother. My eyes dart from the phone to my dad and then back to my mom.
I do the only thing I know how to do. Pray.
Dear God, please help her. I know what ever happens is your plan.
Pancreatic cancer, that’s what the doctors said. I never thought that the diagnosis would be that severe. I thought that it would be more painless, more normal — if any illness can really be normal. It was just another name to me, something a fifth grader could not fully grasp. I didn’t notice the signs–the fact that she didn’t smile in the picture we took on Mother’s Day that year or that the special twinkle had vanished from her eye.
I found myself standing in the elevator at St. Luke’s Hospital. My mom, dad, brother.
“Grandma doesn’t want treatment.”
What do you mean she doesn’t want treatment? I didn’t understand. Where was that strong person I’ve always known? That person that looked into my eyes and always knew what to say?
My mom comes into the kitchen. Floral wallpaper covers the walls, dark wooden cabinets darken the room. I sit at the kitchen table watching yet another episode of Jimmy Neutron on Nickelodeon.
“Anne, Grandma wants to see you.”
I slowly creep up the stairs and turn right. Her bedroom door is wide open. There she is. Someone I barely recognize. An oxygen tank sits on top of her mahogany night stand. Tubes are everywhere, the floor, the walls, the bed. It seems as if they are strangling the life out of her.
This person is not my grandma. Not the grandma that greets me with her bright smile. Not the grandma that offers me a coke when I walk into her kitchen. Not the grandma that I built card houses with. Not the grandma that I was planning to play golf with for the first time this very fall. This person has been robbed of her life, her organs dying.
The bones are visible through her skin, poking. Her hands are small and weak. She sits up. Smiles. I try not to cry.
“I love you,” she says.
A week later, I feel the eyes on me. I smooth my skirt. I see my neighbors in the back, my family in the front. I approach the front of the sanctuary. The pastor hands me the microphone. I knew exactly what I was going to say. I had rehearsed it numerous times, and didn’t cry once.
“My grandma, I miss her…”
And then I cry. Tears roll down my cheek.
It hit me. She’s gone.
I didn’t know the doctors were going to be wrong. I didn’t know that a month to live really meant a week. I wish I could say that a miracle took place, but I can’t. I didn’t know that in the bedroom would be the last time I would see her. The last time she would talk to me. The last time that she would tell me that she loved me.
We will never build another house of cards. We will never see another movie together. We will never hug. There will always be that empty chair at Sunday dinners. She has never seen me hit a golf ball. I will never see the person who has gotten three hole-in-ones swing a club. We would never play the game together. Never.
I have missed out on those special grandma-granddaughter moments. It will never be the same.
I have lost three grandparents. Three grandparents related to diseases caused by smoking: lung cancer, pancreatic cancer and emphysema. I have missed out on special times, those special moments that people remember forever all because of these terrible diseases. I was two when my grandfather passed away, 11 when my grandma passed after being diagnosed a week earlier. And in ninth grade, I saw my other grandfather gradually suffocate.
Everyone lives with regrets. Mine is one that I think of frequently. I never had the opportunity to play the game I truly love with my best friend. Time is precious and I wasted it. It is so true of the saying: you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.
This past summer, I stand over a putt. The world seems as if it has stopped. If only she were here, watching me.
This is for you grandma.
I hope that she is watching me. Laughing. Smiling. I hope she is proud.
The white ball disappears. It goes in.