We found out on Christmas Eve 2005 that my grandmother had ovarian cancer. My dad, brother and I had just gotten home from church when my mom called from the hospital’s ER. She had taken Gram earlier in the day, when the back pain had gotten to be too much. “Mom,” she’d murmured as my grandmother winced. “Want to go?” Every time she’d asked before, Gram’s answer was a fervent "No."
That time, she’d simply nodded.
Hours later, the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach told me bad news was on its way. After my dad told us, I sat in the dark of the living room, staring at the twinkling garland on the Christmas tree.
Just before midnight, my mom came home. My dad met her at the door. I watched her collapse into his arms, and my world shattered as she did. It was such a jolt. I couldn’t even wrap my brain around the suddenness. I knew life had changed already—but that was it, too: We hadn’t known anything. My grandma hadn’t been sick.
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“It’s everywhere,” my mom had said that night. “The doctors said it’s everywhere.”
How does cancer spread everywhere in two weeks? I tossed my Christmas best on the floor of my bedroom in a wrinkled pile. I threw on sweats. I climbed into bed. I said a quick prayer for my Gram’s comfort and cried myself to sleep.
A little less than two months later, she passed.
Gram had been as close to a second mother to me as a woman can get. She stayed several days a week at our house after my grandpa died almost a decade earlier, and she had become my closest confidant as a teen. I spent afternoons sitting in her room, sharing the latest gossip and munching on Doritos. Just like that, those empty afternoons became reminders of the questions I’d never thought to ask and the things I’d never know.