My grandmother was there the day I was born.
She kept me multiple days of the week before I began school and many afternoons once I had started. She taught me stories, rhymes, songs, and lessons.
I have nothing but precious memories from my childhood visits at my grandmother’s house, and because she lived alone, I know she cherished my company as well. Part of who I am today is because of her.
However, as much as I hate to admit it, things changed as I grew older. As I entered my teens, I began to dread the boredom that I associated with my grandmother’s basic cable, internet-free house.
Although she lived next door to me, I began visiting less and less, and once I had my drivers license, I had stopped going almost altogether. I only made the trip next door on holidays or when my mother made me. I had no idea at the time what a mistake I was making.
It began with her short-term memory, and you had to retell her things multiple times. However, she could still tell you in perfect detail stories of her childhood. She soon began to forget names, and her doctors explained that she was suffering from dementia.
We knew it would get worse, we just had no idea how fast. Within a couple months, she began telling elaborate stories of conversations she had had that day with deceased relatives, talking to voices in her head, hiding from people she believed to be in her house trying to hurt her, and her “trips to heaven” she had made that day in order to talk to her sister.
She once called 9-1-1 on my father at two in the morning for beating me and mom, when my dad was out of state at the time (and he’s never harmed a hair on our heads). The most hurtful moment to my family, however, was the night she did not know who her own daughter, my mother, was. The child she raised and who now had taken care of her every day for years was only a stranger standing in her bedroom.
I began to visit her more often, but I felt extremely guilty for how I dreaded seeing her and the state she was in. Seeing my grandmother, who used to be so strong and independent, now unable to walk and not in her right mind broke my heart.
So, I did another horrible thing that I would regret: I avoided the visits so I would not have to experience the sadness and hurt.
My family, as well as myself, soon realized that we were dealing with my grandmother’s dementia and our pain in a completely wrong way. I now understood that I needed to face my grandmother and cherish the time I had left with her instead of living with the fear of what I might witness.
So, I began to accompany my mother on visits more often. The way we interacted with her changed, as well.
Before, we fought her and the stories she came up with in her head. We told her she was wrong, and that the people she saw and voices she heard were only in her mind. We tried to force the fact that the stories she invented were not true.
It hurt her to think that we did not believe what she said and that we thought she was crazy, and she was beginning to resent us for it. And the times she started to accept that we might be right and what she believes is false, it only filled her with fear.
She did not deserve an emotional roller coaster such as this in her last few years.
So, my family decided to deal with the situation in a lighter way. Instead of disagreeing and fighting with my grandmother, we acted as if her stories were true, laughed about them with her, and asked her for more details.
If she said that she had been running around town with her father all day, we ignored the facts that she couldn’t leave her bed and that he had passed away decades ago, and instead asked them where all they’d been and if they had a good time.
Although it was bittersweet, seeing my grandmother not so frustrated made everything easier to deal with both for us and her.
That next fall, I left for college and only saw my grandmother every few months when I visited home. One night, while sitting in my dorm, I received the call from my mother that I had been dreading but expecting for the past few months.
It was in that moment that my past regrets overwhelmed me. Every day that I dreaded going to see her. Every moment that I ignored her and sat playing on my phone. Every visit that I avoided for fear of what I might see.
I only had a few moments with the woman who raised my mother and helped to raise me, and I had taken them for granted. I had not been around enough when she needed love and family the most.
And now at the end of her life, I had no way to get home from college in time.
I still thank God that this was a false alarm. She lived not only until the next morning, but even though the doctors only gave her a few weeks, she is still alive today. I believe the Lord wanted to teach me a lesson in love, family, strength, and courage.
He wanted to teach me to cherish the moments I’m blessed to live, and the moments I’m given with my friends and family. And most importantly, He wanted to give me more time with my grandmother, which shows what a gracious, giving, and amazing God He is.
Soon after this incident, my family decided to place my grandmother in a nursing home. Although it was incredibly difficult to hear how much she wanted to go home, this turned out to be a wonderful decision.
Her mind still goes in and out, but the care and steady routine has greatly increased her health. While she once was too weak to lift even her hand, today she is more alert and has more energy to interact and talk with us.
Sadly, the doctors decided a few months ago to take my grandmother off her medicine for dementia. Her days are now categorized as “good days” and “bad days.”
Some days she will remember us all, while on others it is a struggle. Some she can be angry and yelling, and other times she is sweet and says she loves us.
Some days she claims she’s been running up and down the halls, and others she’ll admit she’s been laying in her bed all day.
The holidays were definitely different with her in the nursing home for the first time. There was a felt absence at our annual family get-togethers.
Still, I could not be more thankful to still have been able to visit her on Christmas Day. She was in high spirits, talkative, and it was altogether a “good day.” My mother said that her mom having a good day was all she needed for this to be a great Christmas, and I couldn’t agree more. Even if we did have to remind Granny a few times what day it was.
Every moment is cherished, both the good and the bad, with the good moments being priceless gifts from God.
Although it has made me regret my past and the time I could have spent with her and chose not to, as well as all the days I am away at college, I have come to peace with the fact that I cannot change it. Dwelling on mistakes and making myself miserable will do nothing for me, my family, or my grandmother, and I know that all I need to focus on is my time with her now and in the future.
I won’t make the same mistakes again, and I won’t take advantage of the gift of more time with her that God has given us.
I don’t mind if she doesn’t remember me now. I don’t mind listening to her stories and going along with them. Sitting in the nursing home with her and being in her presence, 100 percent, not engulfed in technology, is all it takes to make the most out of our time.
The simple act of being there for our family shows a powerful amount of love in itself, and I now realize the importance of something as simple as time.
Whoever said “Time heals all wounds” had obviously never met my brother.
It’s been over a year and I’m still learning how to do this crazy life thing without my best friend and little brother. Whenever something good or bad happens I always want to run next door to his room, text or call call him just to hear some uplifting words or hear his reaction.
The best way to summarize this whole situation is with 3 words, “It takes time.”
There are five stages of grief. In the last 19 months I’ve fluctuated constantly, sometimes on a daily basis between all five.
This stage seems to come most frequently. When I first got the news I refused to believe it. I was confused and tried to block out all the things I was being told. At one point I called his phone multiple times just to try and prove everyone wrong when he answered.
And the weeks passed. Denial would come in the form of waking up and forgetting that anything had ever happened and having to relive the situation all over.
More recently denial has been simple; whenever I feel myself getting sad I tell myself that my brother is on a long beautiful vacation, and I’ll see him someday soon.
Anger was simple. I felt an anger that I had never felt before. I was angry with anybody and anything involved.
“Why did this have to happen to my brother when there are terrible people committing heinous crimes and walking around freely??” “Why didn’t they help him?” “ How can they claim to be his ‘friends’ but nobody can seem to explain what really happened?” “Why did they invite him to such a place? “What if he had been somewhere else with other people?” “WHY, God?”
It was the type of anger where all you can do is cry and feel defeated because you know that there is nothing that you can do within your power to change the outcome of the situation. Anger because you don’t have answers.
For months I felt like a time bomb that could explode at any moment. People around me would use certain trigger words and phrases like “drown”, or “I’m dead” and it took everything in me to refrain from 1) bursting into tears and 2) giving them a verbal tongue lashing about their poor selection of words.
Bargaining came in the form of me constantly begging during my morning and nightly prayers. “Please God, I will never sin again, I will always be kind, I will never stray from you again, if you just let this all be a dream.”
But every morning following those evening prayers I would wake up and the outcome would still be the same. I was stuck with this new reality and there was nothing I could do about it. Even when I saw my brother for the last time I thought, “well maybe if I just hug him or hold his hand he’ll wake up and make a joke.”
I got to a point in my depression where I selfishly thought that dying would be much better than living because at least then I would be able to hang out with my brother. Dying was the perfect option. Feeling nothing was better than hurting every minute of every day.
If I died I wouldn’t have to be in constant pain. There would be no bills to worry about, no people to deal with, and most importantly, I wouldn’t struggle with telling myself every morning “just make it through the day.”
It was then that I also got to a point where I questioned my faith. There were many days where I would just be sitting in my room for hours crying and wanting to feel something other than pain and crying out to God, “If you are a merciful and good God why would you allow me to feel this kind of pain? why would you kill my brother?”
3 weeks after my brother’s accident I went back to school and resumed my adult responsibilities the best I knew how. The same week that I resumed class and work, I also celebrated my 21st birthday.
The morning of my birthday I rummaged through some old letters on my desk and found the birthday card my brother had sent me for my 20th birthday. I sat there staring at it, rereading it, and just pictured him singing “Happy Birthday” and a warm hug from him. It wasn’t right. I told myself that I wasn’t allowed to enjoy that day or any other holiday for that matter.
Initially I didn’t make any plans and had no expectations for my birthday, but with the help of an amazing teammate, Tunya, and even better friend I had the best birthday given the circumstances. Although I found myself doing what some would consider enjoyable I still found myself wanting to cry and thinking “I wish my brother was here so I could be happy again, I shouldn’t be having fun without him.”
During summer session I would sit in class struggling to take notes because I could barely see through my tears. Many days I just wanted to be left alone, in the darkness, to just grieve in peace without being asked ‘when are you going to go back to “normal?’” or being interrogated about the whole situation and having to relive the emotions from when I first found out.
I often found myself laying wide awake at night pacing up and down in my room. And when I was fortunate enough to get a few minutes of sleep I found myself quickly woken by a nightmare.
The hardest days were the ones when I woke up unable to discern between reality and dreams and found myself reliving the horror midway through dialing his phone number, sending a text, or logging on to any social media outlet and seeing the numerous “I’m sorry for your loss” posts.
As always, time went on and I adapted to school and this new life. Just when I thought I was making small progress, I was inundated with thoughts of the future. I realized that my brother would not be there for many milestones.
-My brother will never see me graduate from college
-My brother will never see me get married.
-I won’t be able to celebrate any more birthdays with my brother
-My children will never get to meet their Uncle Vince
Graduation seemed to be the hardest to come to terms with because it was the most meaningful and was happening in the very near future. Graduation was also just 4 days shy of Vince’s accident, so I knew my emotions would be running high.
The afternoon before graduation I found myself sitting in Rooker Hall with 2 of my teammates reflecting on the last few years and our plans for the future. I expressed to them my disappointment that my brother would not be there the following evening witnessing my commencement ceremony. My teammate Sarah said to me “Just because he’s not here doesn’t mean he didn’t get the invite. He’s going to have the best seat in the stadium.”
It was then that I knew that it was ok to move on with my life and no longer feel guilty for having fun or achieving wonderful things without my brother because he was always there with me, in my heart.
There were and still are so many unanswered questions. The lack of closure is what kept me up at night or kept me from focusing in class.
For a long time I thought that having an answer or just having someone to blame would make me feel better. It came to a point where I had to silence my thoughts and say, “ok Lord, I don’t understand at all what you’re doing but I trust you.”
I also had to tell myself two things:
that all those questions didn’t matter
even if I had the answers to all my questions would it put my heart and mind at ease? Honestly, probably not.
We live in a death fearing society. I think it is foolish for any of us to deny death or think that we are immune from death.
One thing that I have learned in the last 19 months, although cliche, is that life is short and anything can happen at any time, whether you are ready or not. I have learned to take things at face value and always embrace people with constant, unconditional, and selfless love. I had no desire to learn how to live without my brother, but I had to because life continues whether you’re ready or not.
You can learn how to live without someone, even your best friend. It won’t be easy, and it’s going to take some time, a long time honestly, but you can do it. Just remember that small progress is still progress. Never let anyone tell you how long you should grieve for, it’s a process and it takes time.
One thing that settles my heart is knowing that however many remaining years I have to spend on this Earth without my brother pales in comparison to an eternity in God’s kingdom. Until then I just have to remind myself he is on a beautiful long vacation.
I can’t wait for the day we can pretend we have our own cooking show again, or he can jump out from behind the tree in the front yard and spray me with his water gun when I’m running, or Saturday morning cleaning and taking breaks to have a sing or dance off. But most importantly I can’t wait for the day Vince can give me a long hug.
A wise man told me this year “Quality of life is not measured by quantity of life.” Vince taught me so much and did so much in just 19 years. He was the kid that loved to run drills in the backyard and put in the extra work even in the off season. He was also the kid that loved to volunteer with Hands on Atlanta on the weekends to build homes for families in need.
God gave me 19 years with my best friend and I will cherish them until I take my last breath on this earth because they were the best. We used to do EVERYTHING together. We had so many jokes we basically spoke a different language. Some nights we would stay up all night just being goofy and talking about the most random things.
This whole situation is so surreal. The only thing Vince hated more than tomatoes and brussel sprouts was seeing me cry and wallow in sadness.
I still don’t understand why this all happened but I do know that God has used this situation to soften my heart. I am learning to love and serve the Lord the way my brother did.
My brother would not only want me to be happy but he would want to be helping others and spreading Christ’s love. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but with time you learn how to cope and be at peace, not in pieces.
My brother was my best friend, and he will always and forever be my best friend.