Last week, my family gathered to celebrate the life of my grandmother, my Yiayia, on the tenth anniversary of her passing. We shared stories, marveling at how quickly these ten years have gone by, silently evaluating the significant events of the past decade and how much has happened in each of our lives since then.
My brother and I were very close to our Yiayia and I struggled with her death for a long time. She was kind and compassionate, and she always entertained and even encouraged whatever my silly obsession du jour happened to be. I can still hear her laugh.
I’ll never forget her eyes. They looked like they had sunflowers in them. She was so beautiful, elegance incarnate. She embodied pageantry and glamour. She could sense a poised camera from a mile away and was always ready for its flash.
She loved being behind the camera just as much as she loved posing in front of it, keeping boxes upon boxes of photos–moments in time, captured and clung to. Some of my favorite memories include her dressing and painting me up like Cleopatra and, of course, taking pictures.
As happy as I always remembered her being, there was a dark side (as there is with everyone). She was almost neurotically valetudinarian, with a crippling fear of cancer. Cancer had taken many of her loved ones and she was sure she’d suffer the same fate. Ultimately, despite the family history and the decades of smoking and worshiping the sun, she died cancer-free and without a wrinkle on her face. It was dementia that took her.
We don’t know how “present” she was in her final few years, but I wonder if she knew what was happening to her, if it frightened her, if she thought about the energy spent on fearing cancer. Did her fear prevent her from experiencing new memories? From deepening relationships with her loved ones?
It’s so easy to get fixated on the “what if” and let it haunt you, allowing it far more energy than it deserves. I see that now, in my own journey. I struggle with it on the (thankfully) occasional bad day. Sometimes all it takes is a well intended comment, an anecdote from a person–perhaps an attempt to relate or connect–that makes me spiral into a couch-burrito of self-pity, looking to the dark corners of the internet to tell me my fortune. I feel pathetic, of course, when it passes…but when it’s present, the fear is very real. With a disease as individually unique and unpredictable as mine, it’s so important to stay in the moment and remember that it’s only that–a moment. It’ll pass. It’s imperative, for any of us, to focus on the good and to be grateful to even be able to experience that moment and to feel, process, and convey emotion. So many aren’t afforded that luxury–one that we all take for granted or, worse, choose not to recognize.
I’m so grateful for the twenty-one years I had with my Yiayia and that now, even though she is gone, she can still teach me a few things.
I miss her so much.
I wish you all a happy new year filled with love, good health, and light!
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