Two weeks ago, I turned 25. I’ve been meaning to write a post commemorating my birthday, but, I’ve had writer’s block trying to come up with something; I haven’t quite managed to put anything on paper. Because, when push comes to shove, 25 is just the year after 24, and right now, I am living a life that I really, truly love.
When I look back on my twenties, I will always remember 23 as the year that I left my life behind in Wisconsin and moved to France as a teaching assistant for “just one more year.”
23 will also be the year that Grandpa was diagnosed with cancer. It will be the year when everyone pulled their weight to help with the doctor’s appointments, the chemotherapy, the radiation, and then the remission, while I did the best I could to be supportive from afar.
24 will always be the year I was hired as a lectrice d’anglais. It was the year I put myself, my career, and my desires first. 24 was the year I decided to stay in France, because I knew that France was where I needed and wanted to be.
24 will also be the year when Grandpa’s cancer came back with full force.
24 is the year I decided to kiss Grandpa goodbye and leave him standing, crying, and waving from his front porch. It is the year I kept driving, teary-eyed, towards the airport, carrying the twinges of guilt and regret with me as I settled into a new life in northern France.
24 was the year I committed to bi-weekly phone calls and post cards. It was the year of dreading the bad news and waiting for the call. It had already been decided that, if and when the call came, I wouldn’t go home. In many ways, it is harder to grieve alone from so far away. In other ways, it’s easier.
I was on the way to a private lesson when I got the call. There wouldn’t be a service.
Cancer… it’s just one of those things… it changes people… it changes everything. It consumes the patient, their families, and friends, in the worst possible way. Even the smallest gestures don’t seem like enough to help your loved ones cope with the pain.
Grandpa was a lot of things: a husband, a father, a grandfather, a brother, an uncle, a nephew, a veteran, a son, a friend, a teammate, a faithful employee, a Packer’s/Badger’s/Brewer’s fan, a reader, a fisherman.
Grandpa taught me how to fish, how to fly a kite, and how to bake kick-butt peanut butter cookies. Grandpa and I are both fans of The Walking Dead, Frank Sinatra’s Christmas album, and World War II history. Grandpa was always the first one to pull out his map whenever I told him about my newest travel destination.
Grandpa made a point to purchase a sweatshirt from each of his grandchildren’s universities– and wear them with pride, in rotation. But, my favorite thing Grandpa ever did was put all 8 of his grandchildren’s school photos on display on the wall of his basement workshop. Each grandchild had 13 photos– one for each year of school. It never failed to make us laugh or put smiles on our faces.
Grandpa has always been there. He was there to see me win three state championships in gymnastics. He was there to watch me walk across the stage to collect my college and high school diplomas. He was there to sit by my side and admire all of my photos from Normandy, the one place in Europe he’d dreamed of visiting. Every time I’ve come home from being overseas, he’s always been there. The next time I go home, it’s hard to know that it will be the first time he won’t be.
Now, 25– the year I have to learn to live without Grandpa, but also keep him in my memories. So, here’s to year 25— a year of baking more peanut butter cookies, never feeling guilty about taking naps, reading more books, and above all, remembering the importance of family. Here’s to 25— to continuing a life of happiness and fulfillment. A life that, I am sure, he would be proud of.