My maternal grandmother died in April of 1979 after a shockingly brief battle with cancer. I was 17 years old.
My grandmother was hilarious and witty and fun, and she one was of those people that everybody just liked. Her name was Virginia, but her friends called her "Binx," and I have no idea why. We always called her "Baba," and I can't explain that either. She drove a 1967 Mercury Montclair that was dark green with ivory interior, and lived in the Whitehall apartments on Battery Lane in Bethesda, unit number 803. She was born in Hampton, Va. in 1903 to a lawyer who would go on to become a very well-liked and respected circuit court judge. She married a man who looked just like Clark Gable. She played bridge and belonged to the Women's Club of Bethesda. She and I were very close.
I was told she had stomach cancer, and that she had elected not to have treatment. She was hospitalized for what I think was at least two weeks in the early spring of 1979, and every night, my mother and I would visit her. As the end of each visit drew near, I would fill with anxiety as I tried desperately to muster up the courage to tell her I loved her. I had never said those words to anyone except the family dog, and in spite of writing dozens of love songs and poetry that declared the sentiment in a loud, confident voice, I left that hospital every night with nothing but an awkward smile and uncomfortable wave. Tomorrow, I would promise myself, tomorrow I will tell her I love her. But I never did.
On the afternoon of April 18, I was mowing the lawn when my mother came outside, and I realized there are some words you just never have to say. I knew my grandmother was gone.
As my mom struggled with the loss of her mother, I beat myself almost to death over my inability to utter three simple words. I couldn't understand how it was possible that I could be such a coward. But then, I had always hidden so well behind my guitar, and it occurred to me that I probably should have just taken my instrument into her hospital room and sung for her the words I was unable to say. It took me years to forgive myself.
Of course, she knew I loved her. I have never doubted that Baba knew how much she meant to me, and I have never thought for a moment that she didn't know I loved her. But knowing it and hearing it are two very different things. There is nothing like the feeling you get from hearing someone tell you they love you, and shame on me for denying someone so important to me that incredible feeling.
When my own mother was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2006, the last thing I worried about was telling her I loved her, because she already heard those words from me almost every day. I focused on being there for her treatments, watching I Love Lucy on a portable DVD player while her medicine inched its way into her system, and laughing, as we have done for years (mostly in the grocery store, for some reason). We strapped ourselves together like logs in a raft and forged into the rapids, emerging on the other side almost entirely unscathed. It's something we don't discuss now, but whenever it's time for another checkup, we both think about it a lot.
It's absolutely amazing what we can accomplish when we simply let "it" go, whatever "it" is. Don't ever be afraid to give someone the gift of hearing what they mean to you. You may be surprised to know just how powerful a weapon you could be giving them against whatever they may be fighting.
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