My memory of your time in the ICU at Cooper Hospital will be forever a part of my memory. It’s there forever, sketched forcefully in permanent ink, allowing family, friends, therapist and anyone who wants to listen a concrete sign of all the pain you suffered through. No matter how hard I try to forcefully push away any appearance of you, half dead in night gown, into the depths of my mind, somewhere even below the subconscious, it’ll always be there.
Although I try not to remember my mother, your daughter, standing over you in such a delicate nurturing way that she could be mistaken for your mother. I remember she spoke to you in that frigid hospital in gentle tones, like you were a child she was trying to lull to sleep. There was something so vulnerable yet unnerving about my mother speaking to you as if you were a baby.
She did this because you were about to die.
Back in 2011, you had contracted breast cancer that was mistakenly cured and then spread to your shoulder and further infested the remainder of your bones. The cancer was a wave that continued to beat against your insides, eroding them little by little day by day, leaving you skinny and defeated as you lie in that hospital bed. You didn’t think you would end up there. Ten short months before you were doing just fine.
You were eating, smiling, using your quick with to put everyone at ease regarding the disease that plagued you. You even helped serve cake at my sixteenth birthday party. You hugged me close and told me that good things were going to happen to me and I believed you.
Then you were hit by a car.
Your husband’s car in fact. You were coming back from lunch with your cousin/childhood best friend. He didn’t see you out of his rearview mirror and you toppled over onto the unforgiving concrete. Your cousin remained in the car, unharmed.
While not a fatal accident, the incident did require cosmetic surgery. This didn’t seem like much, fairly pedestrian actually, but you never did recover.
I remember waiting for twelve hours in the hospital, the very same one where you died, for you to see a surgeon. She eventually came and told us not to worry, your incident only required some reconstructive facial surgery. But you never did recover. In fact, your husband’s negligent driving kick-started your downfall, a mistake that will gnaw at the back of his neck for the rest of his life.
My mother was firmly at your side during this exponential decline. Anytime you needed food, something to be fixed at the house, or simply a friend to talk to for hours on end. My mother was there.
I remember before your diagnosis when you and my mother would talk for two, three hours at a time.
I remember when I came to visit you on one of your final days and a physical therapist was feeding you cookies that my mom had brought from a top-notch bakery. Only the best for you.
You said your throat was sore and blistered, incapable of swallowing anything, let alone a crumbly cookie. The therapist sat over you with a pitcher of milk and force fed you itty-bitty bites of sugar cookies, that I imagined burned down your throat eventually landing in a stomach that hadn’t eaten in ten days.
I remember when we had to beg nurses to bring you your medicine because they knew a seventy-two-year-old woman with stage four cancer was a lost cause.
But I never thought of you that way.
To me, you were the grandmother that would wipe away not only my tears but also the anxieties that engulfed my brain. You were always the first one to stand up to me or offer me any sort of support with open arms. Your soft but defined form clothed in only the softest cashmere was enough for me to feel heard, accepted and loved.
I remember back in eighth grade when I was obsessing over becoming bulimic. Although I had barely eaten in a week, the cobra that is my OCD was trying to convince me that it was in my control to make myself skinny, beautiful, the object of all the boy’s affection. But you stopped the cobra before it could strangle my mind. You told me in your firm but genuine way that “There was no reason to stick your finger down your throat, you have no idea how much that could mess up your insides, you could even lose your hair. Besides, you’re a beautiful girl.”
And you were beautiful, too, even when you lost your hair. You navigated the world with a grace that could only be captured by the shimmer of your baby blue eyes. You kept laughing your whole life, despite your alcoholic mother, pessimistic best friend, and difficult (to say the least) husband. You kept on laughing, refusing to let the world bring you down, even just a little bit.
I remember when it was time to say good-bye.
You couldn’t really speak, but I told you through tears that you made a difference in my life, through your unwavering optimism and spunk, you gave me the courage to be myself. I said I’d miss you. I said I love you. I said that I am going to name my first-born daughter after you, Judith.
My mother was never the same after you died. I remember at your funeral she told you, clutching a hand-written note she had written for your trip six feet under, that you would be friends forever.
I remember when they lowered you in. The minister asked us all to say something we admired about you. I said that I loved how supportive, king and funny you were.
My mother was constantly in the intense throws of grief during the subsequent months after we put you in the ground. She would cry all the time and I thought it was my duty to cheer her up, to make her laugh. I would quote lines from our favorite movies and television shows in hopes of producing chuckle or even a slight smile.
But some things you just never get over.
A myriad of meaningless fights between my parents ensued and continue to ensue since your death. I guess this I because my mom always had you to talk to, to make her feel better through a gentle whisper or soft kiss, a love only a mother could provide.
We still visit your grave as a family. We still bring flowers and offer updates on the world around us. Life was so different when you were alive. But seasons change, people grow, just as the leaves and snow gracefully glide over you now.
I’m basically an independent adult now and am becoming one without you by my side. I’m close to graduating from Towson University, a school you were never able to find out that I attend. I’m working on a degree in film and writing. When I acted in high school you told me never to take the plays too seriously, as you deemed me to be more of a JK Rowling type than an actress.
I’ve traveled across the country and the world. I’ve joined a film society with people who share my passion. I live in a penthouse near my school with two of my best friends, who you’ve never met or even heard of. I even have a serious boyfriend that I’ve been dating for nearly two years, it’s surreal to think that you’ve never met him.
But I guess there are a plethora of people you will never meet, places you will never visit, events you will never attend. You’ll never have the joy of watching me walk across the stage at college graduation or down the aisle. You’ll never see my first home. You’ll never meet your great-grandkids.
But maybe there’s a way you can.
While you were still alive, you promised me your one of a kind Waterman pen, because you not only knew I wanted to be a writer but also believed that I could make it as one. And it is with this pen that I will keep your memory alive. This symbol of your support and unconditional love will guide me to pursue my passion and make you proud.