When I was eighteen, my grandfather was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme. In other words, a death sentence. There was a moment when I realized that one day when I woke up he wouldn’t be there anymore. What I didn’t know was that with every surgery and every drop of chemo, part of him was already gone. He had become a shell of the man he once was, and he often couldn’t remember where he was or even who I was. Honestly, that alone was more devastating than his death could ever be. I know that might sound horrible, but bear with me.
For two years he fought hard against this disease, and for two years I watched the man I held foremost in my heart, the man who had inspired me to be all that I am, disappear right before my eyes. Trees wither long before they fall. My oak was wilting and there was nothing I could do to stop it. With him, my family and friends also began to fall apart. Cancer is a horrible thing, and the effect it has on family and friends is devastating.
I’m a writer. Ever since I can remember, I’ve written stories and poetry. My grandfather knew where my passion was and unquestioningly supported my writing. I remember sitting in his lap while he rocked us, reading him any new material I had. For hours we would sit and trade stories. He was my best friend, father figure, and so much more.
On October 23, 2014, I was home from college for the weekend to see him before his next surgery. The tumor had come back and it was more aggressive than ever. By this time, the man that I grew up with was gone more often than not. My oak tree held only a few leaves left. What’s worse is that he knew. On this day, at almost twenty years old, I sat on my grandfather’s lap crying harder than I ever had while he asked me to do something I wasn’t sure I could. He wanted me to write a poem about us, something that I could share in a celebration with all of our friends and family. I was stuck. I didn’t want to accept that he would leave me, and I also didn’t want to tarnish the memories of all the great times I had writing stories with him with the sadness that would no doubt come with writing this.
What I didn’t know is that this request was less for him and more for me. He knew that my writing was an outlet for the anxiety I grew up with. He didn’t want to tarnish our memories, he wanted me to release all those pent up feelings and not let them spread through my body and life like cancer. On November 12, 2014, he had his surgery, and he was left paralyzed on his left side. I spent a week in the hospital sneaking him salad (our secret code for ice cream) and reading him our old stories.
He closed his eyes for the final time the day after Thanksgiving in the comfort of his own home. I felt relieved and angry at the same time. Relieved because he was no longer suffering; angry because of all the things he would miss. He would never see me graduate from the college I decided to attend after our camping trip to Saint Augustine when I was eight. He would never see my career, never walk me down the aisle, and never meet his great grandchildren. All of this was stolen from me by a baseball shaped mass in his brain.
The day after his passing, I wrote a poem in honor of one of my favorite memories of him teaching me how to ride a bike. I read it at his funeral service in front of over a hundred friends, family, and business partners. His casket lay two feet beside me, as I fulfilled his final request and shared our story.
Don’t Let Go
The earth swayed side to side.
Side to side.
Until it was righted again
By sturdy hands.
One in front
The other in the back
You won’t let go right?
A clever smile
That reached blue eyes
One. Two. Three.
Wind rolling through
Flaxen and steely hair
Don’t let go!
I’m not letting go.
The world wobbles once more
Don’t let go papa!
Don’t let go! I’ll fall!
That’s it! That’s it!
You’re doing it!
The steps rise and fall
Beneath small feet.
You can do it. You ARE doing it. LOOK!
Terror. Surprise. More pedaling.
You said you wouldn’t let go!
A slow proud smile
The breeze dies down.
Stopping. Turning. A hug.
Papa you said you wouldn’t let go!
Yes but you didn’t need me anymore.
The point of this post isn’t to depress you or to ask for pity. Also, I understand how rough this poem is. It’s not really ready to be published on a large scale, but that doesn’t matter. That’s not why I wrote it. I wrote it to allow my anger and sadness and acceptance to flow from my body, instead of letting it build and become something cancerous to myself and those around me. I hope that none of you feel any sadness after reading this post. Rather, I hope you feel inspired to take pen to paper and write to your hearts content. Do not be afraid to get mean, hurtful, or personal. Holding these feelings inside is worse.
In a recent study done by the National Institute of Mental Health, 18 percent of adults suffer from anxiety or depression; that’s over forty million adults just the United States. I hope to spread the word of the benefits that writing has on the human psyche. It is therapeutic, relaxing, and promotes acceptance of things you cannot change. This is something writers, as well as the rest of society, cannot afford to lose. If you need some helps to get started, here are some of my favorite prompts from Writers Digest:
- Take your favorite TV show character of all time and put him or her into a different show that you enjoy. The character should be surprised to be in unfamiliar territory, but should interact with the other characters and, if possible, help them solve a problem.
- You’ve finally decided it’s time to break up with your significant other. You just haven’t felt that connection for awhile and know it’s time to move on. So you go over to his/her house and, after explaining how you feel, you feel relieved–that is, until your now ex-significant reminds you that it is Valentine’s Day. What do you do?
- Write a story that starts with the line “You’ll never get me to tell you where the jewels are,” and ends with the line, “I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming.” Be as creative as you can.
Remember, there are no limits other than the ones you place on yourself. From one writer to another, know that you will always have someone in your corner cheering you on. You can do it, don’t let go.
Written by Taylor Diamond