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A Cradle to a Casket

"What did the doctor say?”

“Nothing yet…he said he’ll have information for us soon.”

“Oh…”

We all put our heads back down. The last 4 hours were torture; sitting in the hospital lobby, watching all the sick people go in and out, and nurses shouting, and IV machines tick tock ticking. We knew our father had Lymphoma…we just didn’t know what the prognosis would be. How much time did he have left? Was it curable? Was he going to be okay? All these questions replayed over and over and over again in our heads until we were all about ready to explode.

I could remember going to visit my father in his room, seeing his bald head in all its glory, the tubes running up and down his arms. My hero…he looked so helpless. Like a little kid who was there to get his tonsils taken out. Like if we just gave him some ice cream or something everything would be okay. I was now 16 years old, and even at that age I couldn’t even fathom my father dying. He wasn’t going to die until he saw me grow up to be a man, until he saw me be a husband and have kids….he wasn’t going to go until I made him proud.

My grandmother was another story. She was much older, and had cancer of the stomach…a cancer that was most certain death (and we all knew it, but never wanted to admit it because we could see what it was doing to our mother). She was 3 doors down from my father…I visited one; than I visited the other…then I went to school every day. Those were my plans for 4 weeks…4 weeks of never knowing who was going to leave me forever, and who may still have a chance. What a way to grow up so suddenly; what a way to go from class clown, to being the kid with his hood on who sits in the back and never raises his hands or speaks; what a way to become an adult.

My friends would always ask me what was wrong, and I never told them. I don’t exactly know why I didn’t…I guess because I’ve never been a fan of unwanted sympathy…forced sympathy, you know? I didn’t want people hugging me, or telling me things were going to be okay. Because I knew everything wasn’t going to be okay. I knew deep down in my heart that I was going to lose either my Grandmother, who was always there to stick up for me and make me feel loved, or my father, who was always there to go see movies with, to make me laugh, and to take care of me and my family.

So I rebelled. I began smoking a lot of pot…like 4 times a day. I began to drink at night to wash away the sorrow. I hung out with the wrong crowd in school, and stopped caring so much about my work. I went from a 3.6 GPA to a 3.0 and getting lower every semester. My mother noticed it, but what could she say? “Cheer up and do your schools work?” No…she knew I was having a hard time and the last thing she wanted was to make it harder on me. So she let me be. Maybe a mistake on her part, or maybe just a large amount of love…or maybe she was just too tired…watching her mother and husband wither away in the same hospital…you decide.

The last time I visited my grandmother, on November 1 st , 2005 she looked as if she was getting thinner every single day. So thin that eventually she would just disappear. We all knew it was coming, but nothing could stop the pain of having to say your final goodbye. As I leaned over to hug her, crying silently, she handed me a small brass key.

She whispered to me, the way she used to whisper the song “Silent Night” to me when I was a little boy, to help me fall asleep: “Under the piano.”

That was all she said. I automatically knew she was talking about the piano in her and my grandfather’s house. Later that day I made it to her house and checked under the piano. There was a little brown box about the size of a cigar case.

When I opened it I saw pictures of children. Some weren’t even born yet, it was pictures of their sonograms. I wonder what they were, as I knew nothing really about my grandmothers past. She was just…my grandmother, always there to feed me sherbet, watch “Wheel of Fortune” with me, and sing me to sleep. I went home to ask my mother what they were, and when she saw them she began crying.

“These are all the children your grandmother lost.”

“They died?”

“Yes, some in the War some died at birth.”

“But why would she show them to me?”

“I don’t know, Patrick. But they were brothers and sisters who I never got the chance to meet…and who Nanny,” (my grandmother) “never got a chance to love long enough.”

And it wasn’t like I could ask her. She passed away 3 hours after she gave me the key. That same night we found out a prognosis for our father.

Doctor: “After months of chemotherapy, his body has finally responded to the treatment. The good news is that he has beaten it.”

My two brothers and I gave our mom a big hug at this news. She was still on edge staring at the doctor, waiting for the bad news.

“The bad news is that it could come back at any time. He has to come for monthly chemo sessions, take his pills on a daily basis, and eat as healthy as possible. Otherwise, he is okay to go home tomorrow. Just take care of him.”

“Thank you Doctor,” wept my mother.

At my Grandmothers funeral we were all amazed at how one life can be taken away, and one life can be given. My dad got a second chance…a new beginning. For every death…for every ending, there is a new beginning. All those babies that my grandmother lost were replaced in some way by another’s baby. Everybody gets replaced, every end turns into a beginning. I now have more years to be with my father, to learn from him, to watch movies with him. And he now has years to watch me snap out of my depression, to stand up and get a real full time job…he has a chance to be proud of me for once. I for one wouldn’t let this new beginning become a waste. So much waste in this world, there’s no more room for any more.

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