Discovering What Really Matters

Hello loyal followers, it's been a long time since I've written. In some ways, I've missed the blog but in others the break felt right.

I'm back today to share a not so great update. Over the last several weeks I have been going through one of the toughest times in my life. I've debated whether or not to share my feelings about this experience on the blog and have even opened a new page several times, written a few sentences only to delete them and close the window.

On May 9th 2015, my grandma had a stroke. While to some this might not seem monumental, to me it has turned my world upside down.

A little backstory... my parents had a very difficult time having children. They went through many miscarriages, a lot of tears and some doubt before I came along. A few months after I was born, my parents decided to have another baby (cue: Dori!) but in order to do so my mom was told she would be on bed rest for the duration of her pregnancy. Since my sister and I are only 21 months apart, that meant she had a one year old to look after while not being able to move around. Enter, my grandma. For 9 months she did everything with me. Took me to mommy and me, played with me, took me sledding for the first time (we've got video evidence to prove this and let me tell you, I was not a coordinated snow bunny in the early years), and much more. Even after Dori was born our bond remained. When I was 5 years old we moved a mile and a half from her house and nearly every day, we did something together. She was at every family dinner, every school assembly, every swim meet, lacrosse game and birthday party. She picked me up from school, we had sleepovers, she came to visiting day at camp and even to college my first few years. There is not a single life event that I can think of where my grandma has not been there. As I prepare for my biggest life event yet, my wedding, it seems unthinkable that she won't be there, at least not in the way I wanted her to be.

As I've grown from a child to a teenager to a college graduate to someone in her late 20's, my relationship with my grandma has remained constant: she's been my best friend, my rock, and frankly the only person in the world who has always known what to say to make me feel better. No matter how bad of a day I was having, what kind of fight I had gotten into with my mom or with a friend or with Josh most recently, she was always there with her sweet, singsong voice telling me it would be ok. About 3 years ago she and my grandpa sold their house in White Plains and moved to Florida full time (see the related post here) and while it was a difficult transition, even then our relationship remained. We emailed about everything from boys, to work, to diets (we were always scheming) and talked on the phone multiple times per week. I flew to Florida every several months and tried to maximize the time we had together. While somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that I wouldn't have her forever, I don't think I ever really believed (or wanted to believe) that the day would come when she would be gone, or different than she had been.

About a year and a half ago my family started noticing little slips, she'd forget a birthday, be late sending a card (something she NEVER was) or get confused about the day of the week. She seemed to stop emailing and had more trouble with technology than she had the year before. She was approaching 90 so we chalked it up to old age but somewhere deep down, we knew something wasn't right. For the last year, she has had several falls and has been having more and more difficulty maintaining a cohesive conversation. She knew something was wrong and was on a quest to find out what it was. She had been going to specialist after specialist trying to figure out why her balance was off and why she "didn't feel right". Everyone in our family listened to her and tried to help her figure out what was wrong, but we didn't have all the pieces of the puzzle. What we know now is that she was probably having small TIA's, warning signs, and that some time in 2014 she had a mini stroke.

Now, as I sit here on June 16th 2015, one month and 6 days after hearing my sister say "Grandma had a stroke" I can honestly say I'm beside myself. I'm living a new reality. A reality in which my grandma cannot walk and cannot talk. I've been down to visit twice and while she's definitely still in there; the happy, bossy, caring, knows how to do everything better than anyone, grandma I remember, is gone. The therapists tell us that in time we will see more and more come back, but it's hard to see and honestly, hard to believe. We have to stay positive for her, which we do, but every morning, I wake up sad. Every morning I'm reminded of the reality and every morning I wish I could close my eyes and make it go away. The hardest thing has been the suddenness and finality of it all. The last time we spoke, she was normal. She was talking and asking questions. We were planning for my wedding and looking to the future. And then in an instant, that was taken from me. In the aftermath I find myself asking the same questions over and over again. Why her? Why us? Why now? I know it's a normal reaction and while everyone has told me this is life, this is natural, these things happen, I can't help but blame myself. What more could I have done, why didn't I see it, why didn't I save her? I don't think I'll ever get the answers to those questions.

The *good* news is that my grandma is now home, after 10 days in the hospital and 3 weeks in rehab she is back in her own familiar environment with her husband of 68 years. She seems to be making small amounts of progress, although it feels a bit like two steps forward, one step back.  She doesn't want to eat and is extremely sad. While I wish she would perk up and decide to fight, can I blame her? I'm extremely sad too. Not a day has gone by since May 10th that I haven't cried, broke down at work, on the subway, at the grocery store, on the phone (totally appropriate places) and felt utterly broken.

This is the first time in my life I've had to go through a loss like this and it's taught me a lot. It's made me empathetic for others in similar situations and it's made me realize how precious life is. It's made me re-evaluate my priorities and re-align my goals. The perfect shoes and that pre-wedding diet I was so focused on are now of no significance. It's been interesting to see how different people have reacted to my new reality. How some friends have rallied around me, making me feel loved and like no matter what I have a shoulder to lean on, while others have been absent, or unable to understand how real and deep my sadness goes. It's been amazing how my family has become closer than ever and how for the first time, we are all able to see just how much my grandma has given each of us.

While I wouldn't wish this kind of thing on anyone, I am grateful for the perspective.

I love you, Grandma. I hope that one day soon we'll be dancing at my wedding.