Rose Mary

“And if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were talking to me now.”

marjorie, Taylor Swift

The hardest part of losing someone isn’t really the goodbye itself, but rather all the moments you know you are going to have to go through without them. Always trying to fill the empty space in your heart, the place you once stored all your love for them that now has no place to go. I think that’s what grief really is– not necessarily a feeling of loss, but more like an abundance of love that you will never be able to give.

My Nana, Rose Mary, passed away from pancreatic cancer ten years ago today. She was one of the most important people in my life and in our family. She spoiled my brother and I, always doing whatever she could to make us happy. For me, that usually meant a trip to the craft store for art supplied or a walk to the bakery for a vanilla long john.

I was a quiet and sensitive kid, but Nana never made me feel like there was anything wrong with that. One day, I was working on a puzzle at the kitchen table and she came in startled, laughed and said I was so quiet that she forgot I was there. But the silence between us never hung awkwardly or made me uncomfortable. She was one of the first people aside from my parents to let me know that it was okay to just enjoy someone’s presence without having to say a word at all.

Granted, Nana loved to talk to everyone. She was the youngest of seven sisters, so she knew how to stand her ground and speak up. It was something I admired and something I’ve tried to grow into as I get older.

Now, I see pieces of her in myself all the time- her obsessive laundry habits, her night owl tendencies, the way she felt everything so deeply. I see pieces of her in my mom and my brother- the wya my mom spoils her grandkids like Nana did, Nick’s predisposition to hang onto anything that hold sentiment. And it is a great joy and comfort to know that Nana flows through our family still, even after all this time. We carry our loved ones with us in a million little ways we might never even realize if we aren’t looking close enough.

As I watched today’s date creep up closer and closer, I found myself avoiding writing about her. I couldn’t even process that it had been a whole decade since she died. I even Googled her obituary, questioning if so much time had actually passed. But alas, the carousal is always moving faster than you ever realize.

At first, all the thoughts I tried to put onto paper were so jumbled that I finally gave up and went to bed because nothing made sense. But of course it didn’t make sense trying to articulate a grief you’ve felt since you were thirteen. Grief is not a straight line; it does not move in a singular cycle. And the feelings that come with those stages certainly don’t become smaller as time passes. You just build a bigger space in your heart and try to avoid it. But like a cabinet with a faulty hinge, it stays cracked open ever so slightly. Every once in a while, you stumble into it and everything tumbles out, all the things you shoved in there just as powerful and all-consuming as it was when it first took ahold of you.

When Taylor Swift released her ninth studio album, evermore, last December, she wrote a song about her grandmother Marjorie that so perfectly described the specific loss felt from the death of a grandmother. When I listened to the bridge of the song in the car for the first time, the tears started flowing:

“I should’ve asked you questions / I should’ve asked you how to be / Asked you to write it down for me / Should’ve kept every grocery store receipt / Cause every scrap of you would be taken from me / Watched as you signed your name Marjorie / All your closets of backlogged dreams / And how you left them all to me”

Those words hit home. Those words are exactly how I’ve felt for so long.

Today, my grief is heavy in my heart and in my hands knowing I’ve grown so much since my Nana last knew me. I am sad knowing I will never get to know her as an adult, that there are so many question I will never get to ask her. All I can think is, how can it have been a whole decade since I’ve last heard her voice? Since I last dialed her phone number by heart and asked how her day was? How have I now lived almost half my life without her?

There are no answers. And that is what will always just plain suck.

So today, instead of focusing on the hazy summer days when we watched her cancer take her spark, I will think about all the things I never want to forget. Her voice. Her smile. The tall sunflowers we grew in her garden and the orange day lilies in her yard. Trying to keep up with her dancing to “The Electric Slide” at weddings and parties. The way she drove with a towel around the steering wheel in the summer. The way she took care of the outdoor cat that roamed in her neighborhood. Her beautiful cursive handwriting on every greeting card and note she wrote. Her pink curlers sitting in her vanity. The brown carpet of her living room I spent hours playing on. And a million other little things.

Today, instead of letting the grief tumble out of the old cabinet, I open it up gently and go through those things with care, reminiscing on memories I am grateful to keep a space open for in my heart. I can only imagine what she’d say to me now, but I hope she is proud of the person I’ve become. I hope she knows that so much of me exists because of her.

Today, I will talk to her, hoping somewhere she is listening. Hoping she is nearby, talking to me, too.

Donate to the National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation.

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