Life After Loss:
How Losing My Grandma to Breast Cancer Changed My Life
The worst thing that I never predicted or imagined happening came into fruition in 2004. I remember finishing some leftovers and clearing the table, carefully ensuring that my plate and cup were submerged with water in the kitchen sink. My mother wouldn’t have had it any other way.
The house was quiet. Only the air conditioner humming loudly, keeping the summer heat at bay in my childhood neighborhood, Hampton Oaks.
I overheard my mother on the phone in the bedroom. Her voice was low, so I could barely hear anything she was saying. We had creaky wooden floors beneath our ocean blue carpets, so I slowly tiptoed into the room to overhear her conversation. My older sister, India, was already ahead of me in the bedroom listening.
When my mother ended the phone call, she immediately bursted into tears, her shoulders shaking and loud cries shocking my sister and I. I’ll never forget the sound of her crying when I was only 13 years old. It was the first time that I ever saw her vulnerable.
She was always so strong, powerful and confident. My eyes widened as I stood in front of her in shock. Before she said anything, I already knew what happened. I knew that my grandmother passed away. What else would have driven my mother to sorrow?
“What’s wrong, Mommy? What happened?” India asked. I said nothing, waiting for confirmation.
My mom finally managed to speak through the tears. “She’s gone. Grand is gone.”
We called my grandmother, Grand, but we never pronounced the D. Her name is Francine Patterson, but after she married my grandpa, she took on his Scottish last name, Meikle.
Once I heard the words, “she’s gone,” everything inside of me wanted to run away. I was never taught how to process my emotions until I got older and worked with a psychotherapist. I walked out of the room, stepping on all of the creaky floorboards this time around.
I returned to my safe place, looking outside of the kitchen window, accepting the reality that I couldn’t hug my grandma anymore. It was devastating, but I didn’t shed a tear until the day of her funeral.
My grandma had been in the hospital for weeks, losing more and more weight after her breast cancer diagnosis. Eventually, she didn’t even want my sister and I to see her in that state.
She was always a heavy set woman, but was very skinny lying on the hospital bed while only having ice because she could no longer eat solid foods. Looking back, I didn’t understand how serious the situation was.
My mom said that she was praying to God and reassured us that our grandma would be fine. Back then, I thought praying was similar to rubbing a magic lamp and having all of our wishes come true. There was no way I imagined crying at her funeral.
My mother was pregnant with my younger sister, Micaiah, at the time, who ended up born the same month as my grandma (November). Three months after losing my grandma, a new baby arrived; it felt like a sign of hope.
I’m still grieving the loss of my grandma because the truth is that I never did. Now I’m in my thirties, realizing that grief comes in waves. Some days are better than others, but my heart can never be full again – not the way that it was when she was still here.
I was so blessed that Grand was only a five-minute walk away from us, so we spent the night all the time while my mom went to Mercy College as a full time student with a full time job.
My grandma was like a second mother to my sister and I. She would make our lunches, sew us original clothing, order the coats we wanted every year from the catalog, and even forgive us for taping over “her stories” ( as she would call them). Her love was unconditional.
She loved playing Bingo with her friends every week, so she could win some money. She cleaned the homes of many wealthy people who referred her to their friends because her attention to detail was nothing short of impressive. She won hundreds of bowling trophies until her arthritis no longer allowed her to, but she will always be a champion in my eyes.
She was one of the most direct, honest and funny people you would ever meet. She would say exactly what was on her mind, no matter how uncomfortable it made other people feel. She had beautiful, flawless brown skin. Her exterior was tough, but she always gave to people in need because she had a heart of gold.
Losing my grandma to cancer was devastating, and my story is only one of many. So many people, like my grandma, receive this tragic news when it’s too late.
What I continue to learn from this loss is that tomorrow isn’t promised, which also means that we have nothing to lose. This has led to me taking risks, quitting my job without a backup plan, starting a business, and serving others. It led to me planning to become a digital nomad and world traveler.
It’s also led to me creating impact, helping others, and empathizing with those who’ve also lost loved ones. I’ve become more responsible with my health and fitness journey, prioritizing myself.
Every year, I schedule annual checkups and mammograms to take preventative measures. As breast cancer awareness month comes to a close, don’t forget to get checked.
While we can’t control every part of our lives, we can certainly do our best to take care of ourselves and our health. If you’ve also lost a loved one to cancer, I’m sending you hugs and condolences during this time.
With so much love,