Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone. Regardless of my apathy towards turkey, it is a holiday that I enjoy. Every year, around this time, I like to write. It helps me reflect on what I have to be thankful for, and remind myself how blessed I am.
Unfortunately, I have missed the thanksgiving post, and I’m in the mood to write about something else. I have a great multitude of things in my life to be thankful for: a wonderful family, loving husband, friends who keep me sane, etc. Even beyond that: I can be thankful for the fact that I have made it this far in achieving my dream of becoming a doctor, that I was able to join the army to pay for medical school and that I live in a country where both of those things are completely and totally my choice.
I am blessed, happy and content, but I have many things in my life that I am not thankful for. Ceaselessly, Year after year around now, those things rear their heads. I am not thankful that several of my family members are present in our hearts only at holidays - topping the list of those members are my two grandmothers: Baba and Grandma.
Both of my grandmothers passed away within the same six months when I was in the 4th grade. I had never had a relationship with either of my grandfathers, so it was a tough blow to lose all of the grandparents I had ever known in one fell swoop. However, the magnitude and permanence of death was lost on my fourth grade self. I knew that they were gone, but it was beyond me that I would miss them for the rest of my life. The things that I would want to tell them in the future, and the ways that I would never get to know them… these were completely lost on me.
My father’s mother, Anne Sawczuk lived much of her adult life as a widow. Her husband, my grandfather, after surviving a concentration camp in Poland in WWII, succumbed to lung cancer not long after they were married. She was left as a single mother (before it was cool) with two young children to care for (and much older son from a previous marriage). She not only kept them alive, but they thrived. My dad was valedictorian of his high school class and got a full scholarship to college. She lived a long and full life before ultimately losing her battle with leukemia.
She was a happy woman and I know without a doubt in my mind that she loved me to the stars and back. She would end every phone call by telling me she was hugging me, and asking if I could feel it. I don’t know if she meant it more metaphorically, but as a kid… I didn’t get that. I squeezed that phone with all of my might so that she could feel me hugging her too.
What makes me sad about her death is that I will never get to know her as an adult. When you’re a child, every relationship is fairly one-sided. It’s not that children don’t love the people in their lives, but its hard to understand that those people have lives separate from yours. I will never get to ask her what it was like for her on the farm, or if she dealt with prejudice, or if she wished her life turned out differently.
I have the same relational regrets associated with the death of my other grandma, Glenna Parcell. (My mom’s mom.) She raised 5 children in a small house with a “less than adoring” husband. She had plenty to be upset about, and it would be easy for her to be bitter. She wasn’t. She loved life with a passion and nutty sense of humor that lives on in her daughters. She was always laughing, always smiling. (Unless, of course, Uncle Tom popped her balloons). She made up her own songs, own catchphrases, some of which live on to this day. Most of my childhood memories of her involve her feeding me cookies she made, which were always delicious and never short in supply. She exists in my memory now more as the form of her I have seen in family movies. How she interacted with the grown-ups in those movies … it is a side of grandma that I have come to love, but I will never get to know.
My grandma was followed in death by her son and her daughter, Jim and Lynda.
My Aunt Lynda’s birthday is in the beginning of November. The reminders are ceaseless. Lynda killed herself several years ago, long before I was old enough to cope. It happened in the middle of the night, and there was a lot of confusion and phone calls- some of which I overheard. I remember hearing the fear in my mom’s voice. Not fear in the typical horror-movie female melt down way, but fear in the “something is wrong and if you beat around the bush, then I will beat you” way. I hope I take after her for that.
Anyways, mom always tells me that if she needed someone for something, Lynda would be there in the drop of a hat. Although very pretty, she never seemed to rely on or need a man for anything. She once got a flat tire on a long drive, pulled over, changed the tire herself without getting a speck of dirt on her white blouse or chipping her nails. She was also the original master of sarcasm, and I am convinced there is still no one in our family who has reached her level.
If she were still alive… she would be a great-grandmother now, and a darn good one at that.
My Uncle Jim killed himself in the fall of 2007. It was only a few years after Aunt Lynda had passed and it came like a suckerpunch to my family. New meaning to “hit you where it hurts”.
He will always be one of the coolest people I know. He worked as a teacher, reporter, writer, and even a politician. He was one of those people who would try his best at everything, and if he excelled at it – then great, if he was terrible – then he would laugh at himself a long with the rest of us. He loved to play pranks on people, and always laughed the hardest when the joke was on him. He visited once when Jimmy and I were really into playing our trumpets. We woke him with (what I’m sure was a terrible rendition) of Reveille. Terrible, and loud. He didn’t get mad, and after he recovered from the shock of the ordeal, he joked that he hoped we loved him more than the cat, or else that might be the end of him. (The cat had just been put down after peeing all over the house… his joke was that he had lost control of his bladder). Still, he laughed.
Around 7th grade, I discovered that I enjoyed writing. I may not have been great at it, but he encouraged me. He bought me books, underlined quotes, made notes in the margins and shared. He liked to buy me books with essays rather than fiction and books about writing itself. He bought me a book entitled The first time I got paid for it. After my mother regained normal coloring in her face, he explained that it was the stories of writers explaining how they got their start. The note-card enclosed told me that I should never give up writing.
These people as well as others not mentioned, have homes in my heart, but not in my life. I am not thankful that they are not here with me. I feel as though I could have learned and grown so much more with their continued presence in my life.
Despite this, I still have learned very important lessons from each of them. Baba showed me through her life and actions that honesty and hard work are all you really need. In a tough situation, you can pull yourself out with only those two things. Grandma illustrated that passion for life is not circumstantial, it’s internal. Joy is a decision and when chosen, makes life better for everyone around you. Aunt Lynda taught me the value of independence. Learning to handle your own problems may be tough, but it is essential, so that when you have no one else to rely on – you will still be ok. Lastly, Uncle Jim taught me that it is important not to take yourself too seriously. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you may miss out on the funniest jokes. He also taught me to do what you love. Despite going to college for a specific, desired career path, he worked in many different fields. Life is far too short to be miserable – so if you don’t like what you’re doing, change it. Pay cut? Less prestigious? Harder work? Whatever. There are worse things. The important thing is to do what makes you happy.
They also taught me a lesson all together, and its something that I assume we all learn as we are growing up. Time is short. Even family is not permanent. Thus, nothing is so bad that even a day should be wasted in anger over it. I would give anything for a single day with any one of them.
I miss you all, so much. I hope I have grown up into the person that you wanted me to be.