thank you

I’ve had these words swimming around my head for a few days.  But as with all of my thoughts, I couldn’t organize them.  I needed to make sure that what I was thinking was, well, what I was thinking.

People give me grief for still living at home.  I live with my grandparents, and my uncle Artie, and a little puppy named Ira who makes me crazier and yet more understanding with each passing day.

They all have that effect on me, though.  My grandma reminds me daily that I need to make sure I’m not eating or drinking anything that will make me sick – like chocolate and wine and certain coffee, for instance.  My grandpa gives me trouble for having too many tattoos and piercings.  Artie asks a lot of questions.  At the end of the day, I catch myself wondering what my life would be like if they weren’t in it.  I tell myself if I can just get completely out of debt and settled into a real career I can move out and that’ll be the end of it.  Ira and I can move into a little one bedroom apartment and live out our days with chocolate and wine and my favorite coffee and each other.

But I know it won’t be that easy.

See, last week I had a reaction to said coffee – I can only assume it was that, as it was the most recent thing introduced that would have caused such a reaction.  It really isn’t of any consequence what caused the reaction, just that it was caused.  I had a headache, I was paralyzed from the pain.  I was swollen and my eyes couldn’t open.  I was in pain.

I needed an EpiPen.  Those of you that know me know that I have several tattoos.  I can handle pain.  I don’t mind it.  But if you know anything about EpiPens, you know that there is an instant shock when the needle pierces your skin.  I can’t handle that surprise shock.  I don’t like knowing it’s coming and shooting myself with it.  I hate the noise the most, I think.

My grandfather, ever the understanding, caring man that he is, stepped up to the task.  When I couldn’t give myself the medicine, he did it for me.  He ran through the process with me to make sure he knew what needed to be done, and he did it – no questions asked.

But you see, not only was I having a reaction to my coffee or chocolate or wine or whatever it was – once my grandpa administered the EpiPen, I was instantly lightheaded.  To be honest, I knew that part was coming, but I’m never really ready for it.  I hate when it shows up because I’m helpless.  I have to lay down and wait for it to pass.

Only this day, it wasn’t passing.  Soon I grew short of breath, and my headache returned full force.  I was certain I needed to go to the emergency room.  I asked my grandma to take me, told her that I needed to go because I couldn’t breathe.

“Come here,” she said to me.  I made my way over to the couch, collapsing onto it when I reached her.  And my grandma took one of my hands in hers, placed her other hand on my head, and sat there with me.  “Let’s give it a second.  Calm down.  I’m here.  Let’s just give it a little bit.”

She sat with her hand on my head for 30 minutes.  Finally, the feeling passed.  I was still “woozy,” so to speak, but I could breathe again.  My headache dulled.  No, I wasn’t instantly better because of my grandma’s touch, but it was a vast improvement.  Later that evening, as I sat on the couch and watched a movie with my grandparents and Artie, a new thought came to my mind.

Where would I be without them?

October was a particularly hard month for my family.  Breast Cancer Awareness ads filled our TV screen.  People proclaimed from the rooftops that they’d beaten cancer, or that they were going to win their fight.  I watched my grandmother chew her lip in anxiety as mothers announced that they got to keep their daughters.  I heard the hitch in my grandpa’s breath as fathers beamed proudly as they looked upon their daughters, victorious in their fight.

I wanted to write about it, to share their pain.  But it’s not mine to share.  My pain is separate from theirs.  And as the days passed, I felt less inclined to shed light on their stories, if only to spare them the additional hurt that may have arisen from seeing my words.

But that afternoon, as my grandma sat with her hand on my forehead, I wondered how many times she did that for mama, as my mom’s fight drew to an end.  I wondered how many times my grandpa tried to find something on TV for mom to watch, to distract her from her pain.  I wondered how many times Artie circled the S’s in his word search book, showing them to his sister.  I knew that though they were all pained in one way or another over the loss of mom, they were also pressing forward.  They had no choice.  As my grandma recently told me, “I promised her I’d look after you.”  My grandfather echoed her sentiments, albeit in his own way – with a smile, and a nod, and a pat on the back.

I didn’t have the opportunity to write anything for Breast Cancer Awareness, and I refuse to take part in the “30 Days of Thankful” on Facebook.  Instead, I’m combining the two.  I am writing about my family – dysfunctional as we may be, and not always in agreement.  I am writing not about my grandparents’ pain, but their fight.  I’m writing about their selflessness.  I’m using this as my “I am Thankful” statement – for not only Thanksgiving, but every single day of the year.

I am thankful that my grandmother keeps an eye on me.  I am thankful that she reminds me to probably not eat that, and maybe don’t drink that – because she knows how I react to certain things.  I will likely not be able to eat and drink various foods and drinks for the rest of my life.  I’m sad to say that my grandma will not be around to warn me ahead of time for the rest of my life, though.  I am coming to grips with it, and trying to take more time to listen to her instead of reacting to her.  I’m trying to take more time to hug her, to sing her silly songs in the car, to go on three hour shopping trips for two pairs of pants.  Yes, MomMom, those really are a size six!

I’m trying to take time to listen to my grandpa, even though we certainly don’t agree on everything.  I’m listening when I can, and debating with him when the opportunity presents itself.  I’m watching the news with him, talking to him about work (when I can), and telling him new stories that I hear about the Marine Corps.  For me, he has always embodied the words “Semper Fidelis.”  He is always faithful, always true.  He has been there for me every step of the way through this crazy game of life, and I will never forget him holding me close the night mama left, telling me that eventually things would be okay.  Guess what, Honey?  You were right!  I’m sure you’re not surprised.

I’m also taking as much time as I can to spend with Artie – buying him word search books so he can show me when he’s circled all the S’s, playing him old country songs, and having dance parties in the car to Taylor Swift.  He is always going to be my big brother, even if he is my uncle.  No matter where I go in life, I know he will be in the back of my mind always, making sure he’s okay, making sure he’s taken care of.  I promise to get you a “’ccino” again soon, bub!

There will come a day when my grandmother’s voice will not carry through the house, asking me if she can borrow a pair of my jeans or a blouse she likes.  One day, she won’t be there to encourage me to go talk to the cute guy at the farmers’ market.  There will come a day when my grandpa won’t be around to tell me I have too many tattoos.  I will have to inject my own EpiPen one day, without him there to hold my hand and ask if he has all the steps down right.  There will also come a day when Artie won’t be around to go run errands with me, to giggle as I come up with crazy dance moves while I’m driving.  These thoughts terrify me, but I refuse to stew on them.  I can’t worry about what’s coming.  I can only focus on now.

And now, I’m going to go spend a little more time in this crazy house with my favorite people in the entire world.  I’m so thankful for them.  I’m thankful for their guidance, their constant presence, their voices that fill my heart until it’s almost full.  I’m thankful for their example, for their love.  And I’m thankful that no matter where I go in life, they will always have my back.

I love you all so, so much.  Thank you for loving me back.