A picture of trees with yellow and orange leaves and snowcapped mountains in the distance

I remember that day like it was yesterday. The last day I ever saw my grandmother.

I stood at the sliding, wooden door that separated her kitchen from the stairs that led to the side door of the house. My grandmother sat—frail, skinny and hunched over in her wheelchair in the kitchen. She looked so sad. She looked lonely.

I was afraid.

I was 15 years old at the time. It was the beginning of the year, early February, and the VHS tapes (yes, VHS tapes) had just been released of my Christmas dance recital. It was a cold, snowy day in Michigan. My mom and I were at my grandmother’s house to help clean up, sort bills and take care of her. I remember it like it was yesterday.

My grandmother was sick but not a normal, everyday cold kind of sick. This was different. This wasn’t the woman I had always known. For my entire life, my grandmother was nothing short of a superhero to me. She was as sweet and gentle as Mother Teresa, as wise as Solomon and as fierce as a lion. She was my grandmother. She was my world.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she didn’t want me or any of her other grandchildren to know. She wanted to be strong. She wanted to beat it, and she did.

She wanted to be strong. She wanted to beat it, and she did.

After she beat the breast cancer, colon cancer came next. I never knew my grandmother had cancer until after she passed away. I suppose she wanted it that way because I would’ve had a hard time letting go. I would have wanted to save her, to “fix” it.

I remember the last time I saw her so well. As my mom was helping feed and take my grandmother to the bathroom, I sat in the living room watching TV. My grandmother called me and asked if I was ready to watch my Christmas dance recital video. We had talked about it for months now, and they had finally handed out the videos at school. I was so excited for her to see it since she had missed my recital.

Yet, when the time came for us to watch the video together—of me in all my ballet and modern dance glory—I said no. I don’t know why exactly, if it was the teenage angst in me not wanting to do what I was told. Perhaps I was just too restless from being in my grandmother’s house all day cleaning. I was ready to go. I left the tape, and I think I told my grandmother we could watch it later.

That was the last time I saw her—when I slid that wooden door to her kitchen and walked out into the cold, Michigan air. I regret that day, that decision, that moment. I so wish I could go back and just be.

If I could, I would go back and watch that dance recital video with my grandmother over and over again. I wouldn’t have been in such a hurry to go. I would’ve sat next to my grandmother, rested my head on her lap and laughed at the silly costumes we had to wear. I would’ve told her the parts of the choreography I struggled with. I would’ve pointed out the parts where I messed up but no one could tell.

I would’ve stayed with her. I would’ve held her hand. I would’ve told her how much I loved her. I would have just been present.

I would’ve stayed with her. I would’ve held her hand. I would’ve told her how much I loved her.

I got another lesson on “just being” that same year when my best friend came into the high school girls’ locker room to find me. I was changing for dance class, and she came in trying her best to hold back tears. She told me her cancer had come back, leukemia. She was afraid, and she came to tell me she would be taken out of school for a while. Out of all of her friends—and Felicia had many—she came to find me.

I don’t know what level of profundity a 15-year-old girl is expected to have, but again, I didn’t know what to do. It reminded me of my grandmother, when she was sick and frail. I was afraid. So I just hugged my friend. We stood there in the girls’ locker room, her crying and me holding her.

We stood. We cried. We embraced. Her mom stood watching us, and she let us just be. I wouldn’t change that moment for the world. Two years later, after I moved to Oklahoma and started my senior year of high school, Felicia passed away. I still hold that memory of us in the locker room close.

We stood. We cried. We embraced. Her mom stood watching us, and she let us just be.

We don’t always have the most eloquent or beautiful words. We don’t have the answers, no matter how much we want to. Sometimes, it is just a matter of being, of staying, of just sitting with a person. Sometimes it’s about just being there through the hurt, the scary diagnoses and the uncertainty.

There is so much power, so much unknown healing, in just sitting with someone in all of life’s hurt and confusion and just being.

Have you ever lost someone to cancer? If so, what were your last memories with the person? If you could go back and enjoy another moment with them, what would it be?

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