Recently, I went on a bike ride. It wasn't an ordinary bike ride. (I live in suburban Chicago and this weather is brutal!) Instead, I rode a stationary bike. I rode with a group of seven girls. We cheered each other on and we rode for a full four-and-a-half hours.
I was riding for a reason. This was a money raising event -- Cycle for Survival, a charity event that helps raise money for the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Just one month earlier, I knew nothing about Cycle for Survival. I found out about it from an email that was sent to my sorority. My seven friends and I immediately signed up. We each had our own reasons for doing so: either to honor someone who had passed away from cancer, or to support a friend who has cancer, or to do some good while getting some exercise.
In my case, it was for my grandmother. We lost her to cancer on Aug. 14 of last year, just a short six months ago. My grandmother was an integral part of my life. She lived with us almost from the moment I was born and she was instrumental in raising me. Losing her was the most painful thing I have had to deal with. (Thankfully, I haven't had to deal with anything worse.)
Because my grandmother had already passed away, signing up for the Cycle for Survival event wasn't going to do her any good. I signed up to help others and because I thought it would a good way to have some fun with some good friends. However, during the event a number of cancer survivors spoke about their struggles and when they did, I had to force the memories of my grandmother's struggle out of my head. I did not want to put a damper on the day.
Just after our long ride finished, one man took the microphone and spoke about hope. He said that hope is all people have when they are fighting for their lives. That hit a little too close to home. I couldn't hold back the memories anymore. I remembered that my grandmother once told me that hope is the last thing to die.
I came to this event to be with friends and have some fun. I left with so much more. Until a few months ago, I had never experienced the death of someone close. I never had to face the grief of losing a loved one and I didn't really understand what it would be like to never again be able to speak to someone you cared so much about.
Things aren't as bad as they sound. The grief I feared would overtake me in the form of sadness and tears actually lifted me up. When I looked around the gym, I realized that there were many others who had lost a loved one. In some cases, it was a close friend. In other cases it was a parent, a sibling, or even a child. Yet all of these people were wearing big smiles on their faces. They were all united in an effort to honor those they loved in the best way possible way - by helping to raise money to cure a horrible disease, by doing something to maintain their own health, and by simply having some fun.
To say that it is hard to deal with death is simply stating the obvious. It is also obvious that death is inevitable. How we choose to deal with the grief, however, can make a world of difference. When I began my ride to nowhere in the gym, I tried to suppress the memory of my own grandmother's death. What I learned instead is to cherish every memory of her that I have. It felt good to be surrounded by people who were dealing with the grief of losing a loved one by joining the fight against cancer. We know we can't bring our loved ones back, but we can certainly do our part to prevent others from suffering the same fate.
I had a lot of fun taking part in this event with my friends. We danced, we joked, and we laughed. And you know what? I didn't feel any guilt at all. On the contrary, I am convinced that my grandmother was looking down on me with a proud smile on her face. I am thrilled that I was able to honor her memory by participating in the Cycle for Survival.