Many things in life aren’t convenient. Often times they’re more than just not convenient, though, they’re costly. Sometimes financially, sometimes emotionally, sometimes relationally. When we double over from the pangs of all three, the easiest answer is always to retreat from whatever it is that’s making us squirm. So we choose comfort, routine and a marginally padded pocket over that which may be too awkward, too expensive or, let’s face it, too unbelievably inconvenient.
And in doing so, I’m increasingly convinced, we miss some of the best moments life has to offer.
Six months ago, my grandmother’s cancer reappeared. At 93, she left her home, moved into a one-bedroom assisted living apartment and made the courageous decision to live out the rest of her days chemo free. With the prognosis fuzzy, none of us were sure how much time she had left.
Given the facts, it seems like a plane ticket should have been a no-brainer, but not all relationships are the get-on-the-plane-and-go type, a fact that left my sister and I agonizing for most of those six months over the “right” thing to do. In the end, we chose the pangs over our trepidations and booked the tickets; tickets that meant we were saying goodbye.
Two weeks after clicking CONFIRM — my grandmother’s health deteriorating by the hour — I found myself stuck on the tarmac of Denver International unsure if I’d make it after all, a thought that was more unsettling than I ever imagined possible.
As it turned out, I made it just in time. Four hours after I stood next to my grandmother’s bed, stroking her paper-thin arm and whispering things I’d never before had the courage to say, I was awakened by the buzzing of a cell phone. My sister sat on the edge of my bed and, in the dark quiet of the room, we cried for a woman we’d only ever known from a distance.
It was the first moment I knew I was glad I came.
Over the course of the weekend, I savored many more that I suppose are typical when a family gathers to mourn — stories I’d never heard, photos of ancestors I never knew I had, uninterrupted conversation with relatives I hadn’t seen in years, snippets of lives I didn’t know existed.
But it was the unexpected moments, the kind you can’t anticipate or plan for, that gave way to the fullness of my epiphany — that when we hastily wonder if the cost will be worth tossing aside our (selfish) inhibitions the answer, almost without fail, is yes.
It’s full weight bared down as my sister and I sat in the back seat of a car, my parents sharing their first years of life together: their first apartment, the house where my sister spent her first sleepless night, the river next to my mom’s high school where she won (repeatedly, she assured us) the annual regatta; the school where my dad held his first job, the park where they used to walk, the big yellow boarding house (when my dad played for the Minnesota Twins) and, my favorite, the story of the house’s Italian landlady whose heart my mom stole so completely that she gave up her secret family recipe — a recipe that, to this day, I don’t live through a Thanksgiving without.
Oh, there were more. Reconnecting with friends who were like cousins growing up, walking into a house that felt like home after years of playing host to sweet summer vacations, reading letters my mom had written from summer camp when she was ten — not just reading them, but seeing her childhood penmanship — and watching my parents, after 48 years of marriage, be there (I mean really be there) for one another as my mom said goodbye to her mother, the last living parent either of them would know.
When I left on Sunday morning, I had no regrets. I hugged my family at the airport, my heart brimming with the things I would have missed had I decided to choose the easier path. The easier path would have cost me less, sure, but would have left me wondering, regretting and void of the fullness that only comes when we abandon our indecision and choose to say yes.
The morning my grandmother passed away, a nurse grabbed me as I was leaving her room. “Your grandmother,” she said, “was a sharp-witted lady with a very soft heart.” After my weekend in Wichita, I have no doubt that was true. This post is dedicated to Ellen Mae Solter (May 1918 – January 2011). Rest in Peace.