Sunday, June 16, 2013

Innocence Lost

April 25, 2012
"Maturity is a high price to pay for growing up."
-Tom Stoppard
Most people undergo a maturing rite of passage during their teenage years, but for me, the definitive event of my adolescence arrived 10 days before my 13th birthday: the death of my grandmother to cancer.
Up until that day, I was convinced that she would recover, that the world was far too bright a place to let such an unspeakable tragedy befall such an open-hearted and generous soul as my Nana. Sadly, my innocent mind was mistaken.
Just days prior to her passing, my parents, my brother and I boarded a plane and headed to New York City. My grandmother’s condition had worsened, and my mom – on the verge of seeing her only remaining parent slip away – knew that she had to be there to say her goodbyes and be with her sister. Meanwhile, my dad did his best to support my mom, and my brother – only four years old at the time – was blissfully unaware of what was going on.
But me… Well, I understood what was happening, but for some reason, I remained relatively unfazed by the sheer horror of it all. I figured that – even though things looked bad now – it would all work itself out in the end. After all, my grandmother had beaten cancer three years earlier, and though it was a torturous time for the family and things had never been quite the same, my na├»ve disbelief in the darkness that life can bring emerged unscathed.
Those next few days remain the most surreal and haunting of my life. Seeing for the first time just how physically decrepit the disease had made her. Bursting into tears talking with my dad during the wake. Pleading with God for Him to spare her life. Little by little, the realization began to sink in that this was indeed really happening. These are moments I shall never forget, ones that continue to plague me and which played a critical role in ending my childhood.
Despite the fact that I was not personally afflicted with the mysterious, destructive force that is cancer, its role in my grandmother’s death has proven a constant reminder of just how vital our loved ones are and how fleeting life can be, marked as it is with equal helpings of both bliss and sadness. For an entire decade, my childlike spirit and brazen confidence was largely absent, replaced with a deep-seated inability to achieve happiness and a sub-conscious desire to emotionally guard myself from ever feeling similar pain. It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I began to truly face the damage that was done that day and find my way back into the light.
To this day, I still think about Nana, the unshakeable bond we shared and the massive crater in my heart that her absence left me. I sometimes find myself reliving the events that now transpired over 15 years ago and wonder what she would think of the man I’ve become. I think how her relationship with my brother would have developed, how she’ll never meet my beautiful girlfriend or the kids I hope to have with her someday.
Then, I catch myself and realize that it’s of little use to dwell on the tragedies of the past. What we must do instead is focus on the joy our lost loved ones brought to our lives and put our grief to positive use. No good can come from holding on to that hurt. Negative emotions – whether anger, jealousy or even sorrow – will only serve to consume your soul and corrupt your present.
For, while my loss has irrevocably changed who I am and how I see the world, mine is sadly far from the only story left in the disastrous wake of cancer’s grasp. Entire libraries could be filled with all the heart-wrenching tales – both tragic and victorious – of the lives directly and indirectly touched by this disease. And, in every one of these experiences, a lesson is to be learned.
In my case, my family’s history with cancer has instilled in me an inner strength and the knowledge that nothing lasts forever. Every moment counts. All we can do is fight for what we believe in while we’re here and never fail to let our loved ones know much they matter. It’s what Nana would have wanted.

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