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I will never forget the moment when the doctor told me she wouldn’t make it through this. That I would lose her. The poignant look in his eyes, the monotony in his voice. I felt like someone had ripped my heart out of my chest; I felt it hit the ground and break into a million pieces. I was sitting on my grandma’s hospital bed, holding her hand.
And then I started to cry. Tears started streaming down my face and I couldn’t stop sobbing for the next hour. My grandma stroke my hand, saying over and over again ‘Don’t cry.’ ‘Don’t cry.’ I was supposed to comfort her; she was the one who had just been told that she hasn’t got much longer to live, and yet she tried to calm me down. She had always been the strong matriarch of the family, only looking ahead, and not back. Even when my grandpa, her husband, died of cancer, and when she had to help my mother through her divorce. She was always there for anyone in the family who needed help. I couldn’t bear the thought of another loss this year.Never having been close to my mother (who most of the time doesn’t even know where in the world I am), and never having met my father, my grandma was the only person in my family who I would look up to and who I wanted to be proud of me. She certainly didn’t approve of me leaving my corporate career and travel to not-so-safe places like Mexico, India or Guatemala, but when she saw how happy my travels made me and that I was able to build a new career around this unconventional lifestyle, she was happy for me. And proud.My sister had told me that in recent years, whenever people visited my grandma, she made them read the latest postcards I had sent her. A postcard from the places I visited was the only thing she ever wanted, and she made sure to remind me each time we talked on the phone to send her one. It was probably her who gave me the travel bug, taking me on my first international trip when I was only three years old, just over the border from East Germany into the Czech Republic, but I remember that it felt like the greatest journey. Until I started school, my my grandma and my grandpa would take me with them whenever they went on vacation. I used to spend my entire summer holidays at their house and listen to her travel stories. Looking at her hundreds of vacation photos (some dating back to the 1930s) was something I would do every time I spent time I visited her, up to the day she died.When I called her from places like Panama or Patagonia, she usually knew already most things about that place. Geography and far away countries were some of her hobbies, and whenever she didn’t know much about the place I was in, she eagerly asked me questions about the country. She spent most of her life behind the ‘Iron Curtain‘ and wasn’t able to venture far until the wall came down, but she sure had the travel bug. Even last year, at 82, she still took the train all by herself halfway through Germany to visit the Frankfurt Opera. It seemed like nothing could ever stop her.The cancer came so sudden, so unexpected, I still cannot wrap my head around how fast everything happened, how quickly she deteriorated. Within a month of being diagnosed with cancer, she passed away. Gone.. within weeks. Earlier this year, she had the best time when she met her brand new great grandson for the first time and had all her grand kids and great grand kids in the same room. There was no sign of sickness or weakness.This showed me once again though that you just don’t know if there’s a tomorrow. My grandma would have turned 83 years old this month, and she still had places on her ‘bucket list’. Don’t put your dreams on hold. Live them now. My grandpa was another example for this – he had been working all his life towards his retirement, planning to finally fulfill all his travel dreams and enjoy life. He died of cancer only a few months into his retirement. Don’t wait. You never know what is going to happen tomorrow.Last week I went to the Botanic Garden in Brooklyn to see their spring flower display when suddenly, I was overwhelmed by emotions. All I could think about was my grandma; how much she would have loved it there. Visiting flower shows around Germany with her girlfriends had become one of her favorite pastimes after she retired. And seeing her own garden in full bloom was what made her the happiest. Sadly, she couldn’t see the massive cherry tree in her garden in full bloom again this spring before she passed away, but every time I went to her house to check on it’ I took some photos to show her in the hospital bed which flowers and trees had come back to life.
Tears were running down my face while I was sitting in the gardens, smelling the flowers that she would’ve all been able to name. I kept telling myself that the way things happened, they were best for her. Her pain was almost unbearable, but short. She didn’t have to suffer long, and she got to see my sister and my brother, her great grandchildren and me several times before she got severely ill.
I hope she is watching over me from a better place. Even though my heart is hurting more than it has ever hurt before, I will be strong. Because she would have been strong.
You are dearly missed, grandma.