I was about to start high school when my dad was diagnosed with a grade three brain tumor. Even at that age, I did not fully understand the severity of his cancer or what the next steps entailed. Luckily—with one of the best brain surgeons from Duke Medical Center and the right treatment—my dad survived and has never relapsed. Life completely changed for him at the age of 50, and he was never able to return back to work, but we thank God every day for His miracle.
As I started high school, I noticed there was a football game held every September for Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month honoring a student I never had the chance to meet. Matt Hobby passed away from Ewing’s Sarcoma at the age of 18. Ewing’s Sarcoma is found mainly in the bones or tissue of children—which can’t always be operated on.
Facing this fact at a young age showed me how each cancer and every person is unique. My dad might have survived through chemotherapy and radiation, but he was fully-grown and had a strong immune system. The fact that no new drugs have been developed for children’s cancer in the last 30 years made my stomach churn.
These kids need treatments specifically designed for their smaller bodies. Only 4% of government funding is dedicated toward childhood cancer research, with the other 96% percent only funding research for adult cancers.
Growing up, we see pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness everywhere we go, and simple awareness can go a long way. As a freshman coming into the University of Georgia, I decided to start the first Rally Foundation non-profit college chapter to start spreading cancer awareness to a younger generation—normally childhood cancer does not attract advocates until it directly affects someone’s child. Many parents thanked our club for putting their children first; they know that it’s hard for college students to picture themselves in their shoes.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in these parents’ lives and happy that my club will be continuing next year, even when I am no longer a student. My club members are passionate about this cause, and I hope more colleges will be inspired to start their own chapters.
Now, as I walk away from my four years and countless hours of maintaining the club at UGA, I know that these kids will always be my top priority. Advocating for this cause has changed my outlook on life itself.
I had a major surgery in college that gave me a reality check about my health. I remember feeling depressed during the recovery, but then I thought about the kids beating cancer. They are technically “in recovery” their whole lives due to side effects from their harsh treatments. If they can handle it, so can I.
Just when I thought I could live a normal life again, last year I woke up with an excruciating pain in my arm. I couldn’t use it for a month, and the pain soon spread to my neck. Doctors found in my MRI that I have Type One Chiari Malformation, which is unfamiliar to many people because of a lack of awareness.
To put Chiari in my own words, my brain is too big for my skull and my cerebellum is pushing on my spinal cord. Thankfully, Type One means I have enough space right now where my spinal fluid can still flow freely and I will not need brain surgery. Neck pain, headaches, weakness/numbness of muscles, and balance problems are the main symptoms I live with.
I am in the process of changing my life around to live more comfortably and continue to monitor my Chiari. I have endured months of physical therapy and spend more hours in doctors’ offices than people twice my age. Daily activities like driving, sitting, sleeping, and typing this article bring me horrible pain. But even though I physically cannot give these kids my signature piggy-back ride anymore, I will always think of them.
Any kind of head injury worsens my Chiari. For the people who don’t know me, I am a very high energy—and often clumsy—person. However, I hate living life in fear. I hate being terrified to ride a bike or play sports. I thrive for adventure, but anything that puts my body at risk is a big “no no.”
In the past, I have thought “why me?” I hated being jealous and comparing my life to others. I learned to turn away from those negative thoughts because that was not the way God wanted me to handle my pain.
I thank God for using my pain to help me become a stronger person. I thank Him for showing me how to use my passion to help others. The quote I live by and will continue to as I monitor my Chiari is: “Use your pain to work purpose in your life.”
Without having fought for these kids, I know I would not have the positive approach to live life that I do now. It is so important to always be thankful, no matter how bad my situation may seem. I enjoyed a normal childhood and so many kids cannot even say that. These “superheroes” fight hard, never give up, and of course change the world.
The following composition represents the culmination of around three years of reflections and writings. In 2012, I faced a tragedy that took a great emotional toll on my heart, leaving a scar that would take many months to heal. This article is the story of that tragedy and of the woman that helped me get through it. I have always wanted to thank her for the role she played in my life, and thanks to the encouragement from the Wish Dish program, I am finally seizing the opportunity to put my gratitude into words.
“Now,” Mrs. Taylor said, sliding her copy of Tim O’Brien’s book, The Things They Carried, onto her cluttered podium, “I want all of you to take out your purses and wallets and empty them onto the table in front of you. That’s right – everything: cards, receipts, licenses, everything! Now it’s time to take a look at the things you carry.” Scattering the contents of my authentic Ecuadorian-leather wallet onto my group’s table, I began to examine all of my possessions.
The exercise was intended to help us identify ourselves from merely our current pocket fillings; little did I know that this woman would soon become an integral piece of my identity herself.
Jo Taylor is the ringleader of the circus known as George Walton Academy’s English department. This prestigious menagerie produces an eclectic collaboration of (arguably) the finest writers, poets, and performers that the Atlanta area has to offer. Mrs. Taylor’s proficiency lies with the instruction of Advanced Placement English courses and the production of professional writers and enthusiastic lovers of the drafted arts.
I had been summoned to the front of the gymnasium that evening to receive a certificate for an accomplishment acknowledged by the English department. As I walked across the stage to accept my paper prize, Mrs. Taylor extended a hand in congratulations. Behind a wide smile, she whispered, “I look forward to teaching you next year.” The chill from her cold hands crept over my skin, driving fear into my entire being. For reasons I could not pinpoint, this woman paralyzed me with intimidation.
This dread lingered into Mrs. Taylor’s classroom when I began attending her Advanced Placement English Language and Composition course the next scholastic year. My first impression of Mrs. Taylor as a teacher struck another chord of horror on the first day of class. Most of my teachers from over the years should attest to the claim that I am often quiet during class discussion, as I prefer to listen and find the value in both sides of a debate rather than contribute to the bickering or pick a side.
Naturally, Mrs. Taylor stepped off the wrong foot when she announced that, on the seemingly simple “syllabus day,” our class would immediately play host to a group discussion with a single rule: “If you do not talk, then you fail.”
Thus I survived. The first few months of eleventh grade proved an effective albeit brief period of growth and development, both in and out of the classroom. Yet my true transformation was still underway. “Well,” Mrs. Taylor conceded, peering at us over the rims of her leopard-print glasses, “The first round of descriptive essays was a relative success. Now, let’s move on to describing people.”
In late November, 2012, my fellow AP Language students and I had just completed a descriptive assignment in which we were to describe a location that held sentimental value for us. I had scarcely stapled the pages of my “Savannah Sunrise” essay when Mrs. Taylor had issued the order for a new descriptive assignment, this time calling for the characterization of an influential person in each of our lives.
At first, I considered a revision of a recently submitted narrative in which I would nominate an esteemed track coach as my honorable idol. However, I then recalled a recent visit to Great Oaks Assisted Living Home and my decision came clear.
In my youth, I had often found visiting Grandma Towler more of a dull obligation rather than an exciting opportunity. My brother and cousins would sooner run around the tall grass outside the home, playing Power Rangers or Jedi Knights and leaving the adults to their boring conversations.
But, as I grew into my teenage years, I found myself finding every excuse to swing by Great Oaks, popping in on holidays to trick-or-treat with all of the residents or sneaking into polka concerts in the dining hall (which my grandmother described as “turr-a-bull,” but she was always too polite and social to miss such a function).
As my visits grew more frequent, I began to realize just how fascinating and inspirational Grandma Towler was. We would often settle on the patio behind Great Oaks, relax in the refreshing sun on a chilly autumn afternoon, and watch the koi fish in the small pond. We shared stories about our lives, mine taking place over the previous weeks, hers spanning decades.
One of her favorite tales was of her teaching career a Pleasant Valley School. She taught for thirteen years in the small schoolhouse and she loved her job. The school requested that she teach Algebra, but she knew little to nothing of the subject. So, instead of giving up or forcing her students to teach themselves, she stayed up late every night before class and taught herself the necessary materials for conducting a reasonable class. Studying with her students, she was a remarkable teacher as well as a lifelong learner.
She would listen to all of my stories with the same excitement with which she told her own.
She always wanted to know where I traveled that summer or what race I had run in cross country. She would brag about all of my accomplishments to all of her friends and soon enough, she had built a bit of a reputation for me within the halls of Great Oaks (as one of the most popular residents, she certainly possessed that authority). She was truly interested in my life and all I had to say.
When Mrs. Taylor presented me the opportunity to immortalize my great grandmother, I was more than eager to commence construction on my penned portrait. Mrs. Towler was the woman in my family with whom I held in the utmost regard. She was undoubtedly the kindest, wisest, most selfless, and most influential person I could imagine (not to mention the prettiest – having just celebrated her 99th birthday the previous September, she did not look a day over 80).
The matriarch of my paternal grandmother’s family, she was my oldest living relative, and I could not imagine a better subject for my descriptive assignment.
My paper seemed to write itself; poetic portrayals flowed from my racing mind and onto the page like paint to a canvas, molding a near tangible image of Mrs. Towler behind lines of letters. In a jovial tone, I recreated my ever-optimistic grandmother’s attitude with my words, pouring not only my memories but also my emotions into my work.
The assignment’s due date arrived, and I sauntered cheerily into Mrs. Taylor’s classroom, requesting to read my creation aloud to share with my classmates. After conjuring chuckles and grins from my peers with my amusing article, Mrs. Taylor rose. “Well done,” she smiled, “Clean it up a little, put a pretty bow on it, and you’ve got yourself a perfect Christmas gift for your great grandmother!”
While I did not necessarily roll the essay up into a scroll as my English teacher had explicitly suggested, I took Mrs. Taylor’s advice and prepared a revised draft of the paper to present to my beloved great grandmother on Christmas morning. I typed up a refurbished essay, slipped each page into a clear sheet-protector, and organized the article in a purple folder with Mrs. Towler’s name on the cover.
When Aunt Susan pulled into the driveway with Mrs. Towler riding shotgun, a handful of uncles and I stepped outside to assist with our grandmother’s final stages of transportation. Facing her toward the driveway, we lifted her wheelchair and carried her down the small set of wide stone steps leading to the front door. No matter how many times we engaged in this well-rehearsed maneuver, I always feared a slip of a grip or a tilt too far backwards.
Quite contrarily, Mrs. Towler seemed to enjoy each ride as she exhibited a small fit of giggles, as giddy as the schoolgirls she had taught in the schoolhouse so many decades ago. Turning her wheelchair to face me, she greeted me with her catchphrase in the classic southern drawl, slow and sweet as molasses. “Lord, have mercy! Look who I see.”
I gave Mrs. Towler a hug and wished her a Merry Christmas, all the while eagerly awaiting the gift exchange and thus the revelation of my praiseful essay. However, before we could get down to business with the presents, the congregation had to uphold the sacred tradition of a honey-baked feast.
As my grandfather prepared a plate for Mrs. Towler, my great grandmother attempted to excuse herself from the kitchen so as not to serve as an obstacle for the rest of the family. A plate shattered. I heard a tumbling commotion coming from the large flight of hardwood steps leading to the basement. A shout, “Mrs. Towler!” A collective gasp. The room grew silent as we all shifted our gaze to the top of the stairwell.
My father was the first to react, already finding himself halfway down the stairs before I had even processed exactly what had occurred. In her attempt to evacuate the crowded kitchen, Mrs. Towler had neglected to check over her shoulder. In a horrifying matter of seconds, she had fallen down the entire flight of wooden stairs, onto the tile floor several meters below, her wheelchair crashing down on top of her.
Call 911! Grab ice from the freezer! Here, take this towel! My mind stood still as my body raced into action. I was trying to prevent myself from perceiving what my eyes were sensing. A shallow pool of blood began to fill the spaces between the tiles on the landing. I heard a weak groan; my great grandmother had remained conscious during the entire fall. My father propped her upright against the wall, and I could feel myself trembling as I laid eyes upon her battered face, a stream of crimson streaking from her nose.
The ambulance arrived in a prolonged matter of minutes, and the paramedics immediately jumped into action. As the respondents lifted her swollen hand, Mrs. Towler refused to let them remove her wedding ring. Together, the two EMTs lifted her onto a stretcher. As they carted her into the ambulance, she held onto my father’s hand.
Thelma Lawrence Towler died on December 28 at 99 years old. Holding my great uncle Ralph’s hand from her hospital bed, she stirred from a restless sleep late on the night of December 27. She looked into her son’s eyes and whispered faintly, “Why are you prolonging this?” The next morning, following a frantic call from my grandfather, I raced to hospital with my brother and cousin, but we arrived moments too late.
Rushing through the doors to the ICU, I came across a scene in which my grandmother was passing an inquisitive nurse. “My mother died today.” When our family crowded together in the small hospital room for one last look at our beloved matriarch, Uncle Ralph turned to my grandmother – his sister and the oldest of Mrs. Towler’s children – and said, “Well, here’s to the dawning of a new era; a new matriarch.”
The purple folder under the tree was picked up one last time. Mrs. Towler was never permitted the opportunity to read the essay I had written for her. Instead, I read the paper aloud as a contribution to her eulogy at her funeral service.
But I am not writing this piece to mourn the loss of my beloved great grandmother. I have said what I have needed to say, again and again. I have learned to cope with the loss largely though my writings about the woman and the event. Rather, this is the story of how I learned to cope with this loss, and how help came from where I did not expect it.
When classes resumed in January, 2013, I tried to mask the feelings of anguish towards my loss by donning a façade of feigned happiness. A week passed and the pain was still fresh on my mind. I was out at dinner with some friends at a local Japanese restaurant when I ran into Mrs. Taylor on my way out of the eatery. I greeted her with a weak smile.
She pulled me aside, concerned: “Why didn’t you tell me? I had no idea… If there’s anything you ever need, let me know. I’m always here for you.” My eyes filled with tears as I looked into my English teacher’s eyes, and she pulled me in for a much needed embrace. At that moment, I felt as if a hole in my heart had become somewhat filled.
While my great grandmother Towler could never be replaced, I wholeheartedly believe that Mrs. Taylor managed to take over Mrs. Towler’s role. After she took a personal interest my life, I knew that Mrs. Taylor had become so much more than a teacher to me. Perhaps she would even become my very own Mama Jo.
That year, my life seemed to take an unexpected turn. With Mrs. Taylor’s now evident attention, I subconsciously redirected my own attention. I began to take AP Language more seriously as I significantly developed my skills as a writer. For years, I had thought myself determined to pursue a career in medicine, but I took on a completely new interest in the field of writing, turning to narratives and descriptions of my own life and experiences as a creative outlet.
Mrs. Taylor’s concern for my personal life inspired me to take my friends’ lives into greater consideration. I developed a proclivity to become emotionally invested in my peers as I grew closer to my current friends than ever before, cherishing each memory with a good pal and taking no moment for granted.
With arms stretched wider, I began reaching out to new friends more openly and warmly, eager to seek out new ;relationships to treasure. My relationships with teachers were affected as well; I have found new respect and appreciation for the quasi-parental figures of my life.
Most of all, I attribute my maturation in eleventh grade to Mrs. Taylor’s intervention. I had now experienced the real world, and I have prepared myself to tackle whatever life throws my way. Because of my year with Mrs. Taylor as my mentor, my personality had transformed in ways that were once unimaginable. I owe that transformation, along with my utmost gratitude, to Jo Taylor.
Without her, there is no telling how I would have coped with my great grandmother’s passing, how I would have grown academically, or how I would function socially. My Mother Jo has taken an everlasting stand as a cornerstone of my identity, and I have no doubt that she will continue to inspire me through the progression of my college career and adult life. Furthermore, I am certain that I will be able to count on Mama Jo for anything and everything. I know she will always be there for me.
So, finally, I offer to my audience this parting advice: never for one moment let yourself believe that you are alone in this world. There is and always will be somebody to look after you, to talk with you, to make sure that you are happy. In addition, always try to be that person for somebody else. Show them kindness and compassion, and they will come back to return the favor.
Lastly, do not take a single life for granted; you never know where you will find your Mama Jo.
Wake up. Roll over to turn off the alarm only after hitting snooze for the fifth time. Check Instagram. Scroll through and live vicariously through fashionistas in California. Check Snapchat. Oh, a rogue camel in a desert from username الشباب وجديدة ? Good. Check Email. “150 Ways You Could Be Kidnapped Via Facebook” article. Thanks, Mom.
By then, you realize you have approximately twelve minutes to get ready. You spring out of bed, brush your teeth, throw on some clothes, tame your hair, forget deodorant, and grab a granola bar as you run out the door.
Don’t be afraid to raise your hand. My first couple years of college were shamefully filled to the brim with similar baskets of shambles. I did not realize the extent to which this mindless procrastination was hurting me.
Scientifically speaking, it is a facet of our survival instincts to stay in bed and avoid “adulting.” Referred to as a “negativity bias,” many of us subconsciously suffer from an irrational fear of immediate failure following the decision to rise and face the world. It is caused by an unrealistic, out-of-focus perception nourished by humanity’s worst enemy: fear. It is not quite as simple as procrastination or laziness. No wonder mornings get a bad rep.
John Milton writes in Paradise Lost, “The Mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” Imagine that our lives are Pandora stations. When we begin our day chaotically, we are choosing the Skrillex station. Yikes. The rest of our day is consequently filled with related, stressful music. When we begin our day brightly and confidently, it is filled with music that feeds our spirit and exercises positive psychology.
I learned that skipping breakfast, sleeping in too late, intensely stressing over responsibilities, doubting myself, and approaching the day too quickly and negatively in turn painted ugly colors on my daily canvas. Think puke green and spots of paper bag brown.
When I finally understood the importance of self-love in the middle of college, my attitude about mornings changed dramatically. In a holistic sense, how I altered my morning routine transformed the harmony of my entire life. The transformation was radically visible and it is the best thing I have ever done for myself (besides letting myself eat cheese whenever I want, in the name of self-love).
These days, most of my mornings are comprised of healthy breakfasts, journaling, meditation, daily devotionals, fitness, and overall positive channeling using a variety of methods. When I tune my thoughts to a positive radio wave, I experience a consistent flow of sunny positivity throughout the entire day. I’m talking about amplified productivity, creativity, and optimism: the ultimate life hack.
You can begin with one of the most simple and beneficial exercises I have put into practice. Spend five to ten minutes creating a list of things in the world that make you happy. Some samples from my list include: quality family time, boat rides, perfect avocados, queso, sunflowers, fresh fruit, baby animals wearing diapers, cookouts, sunshine, and Jesus.
Be as specific as possible, for it is often the little things that truly mean the most. Train your mind to remember, every morning, why it is worth it to wake up in the first place.
When you create your own sunrise, you become an unstoppable force of positivity. Don’t invite negativity into your life. It’s your party, so make it colorful, fabulous, and one to remember.
I am an avid gamer, I love video games, and for a while video games were the only thing I had going for me. Skyrim, Dark Souls, Civilization, all of these games can be set to varying degrees of difficulty. Most games start you out on a “standard” mode. If my life were a video game, I would have been started on Hard Mode.
In April 2013, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. In February 2015, my diagnoses was changed to Bipolar Disorder. No matter the label, I have been living with my mental illness since I was at least twelve years old.
My story really begins at the end of sixth grade. My parents and I decided that it was okay for me to skip seventh grade and go straight into 8th grade so I could go to a prestigious private high school in my hometown. It seemed like a good idea at the time. At this private school, 8th grade is part of high school, so here I was, a twelve year old going into high school. I was pretty excited for this new chapter in life.
Turns out being the youngest, most naïve, and physically weak member of your class isn’t good for your social life. I was awkward as I was just hitting my growth spurt. I was socially awkward because I was always socially awkward. Needless to say I wasn’t in the popular crowd. In fact I wasn’t in a crowd at all. I was alone.
Loneliness sucks, especially when people go out of their way to make your life absolute hell. Every chance they got, insults were hurled at me. Never fists, only insults. I scurried around the school, frightened of the next verbal assault. It got so bad that I refused to change for gym in the boy’s locker room, as I couldn’t stand being in a tightly packed room with my bullies able to hurl their insults at will.
I eventually got fed up and reported my bullies to the school. It worked, the insults stopped, however I was shunned by the majority of my class for getting the ringleader of the bullies suspended.
Fast forward to senior year of high school. I now had friends, I had a few girlfriends in the intervening years, life was supposed to be going well, but it wasn’t. I was always negative, always “in a funk” I was always the one that killed the happy mood.
My negativity made it hard to keep friends around, though thankfully a few stuck with me. After senior year I went to college at Auburn University. It was not my first choice school, but it was the only one I received a scholarship for. It was the Army ROTC scholarship. I hoped Auburn would see me turn over a new leaf, that in the promised land of college, I would finally hit my stride and flourish socially and academically. That new leaf didn’t turn.
Early in the semester my new roommate and I had a physical altercation. The fight centered around him waking me by urinating on me while he was drunk. I may or may not have hit him… I was considered at fault by the University, so they gave me my own room. I would have no roommates. I was alone.
From then on I lead a miserable existence. The depressive part of bipolar disorder consumed me. I felt that my very soul was being tortured by this depression. I quit ROTC because I couldn’t handle it mentally and as a result, I lost my scholarship.
I had no friends within a hundred miles, and my pervasive horribly negative and fatalistic mood was pushing away the ones that were already far away. I hated life, I could barely drag myself out of bed, my grades plummeted, and I thought my family believed I was a failure. They didn’t, but nothing would get through my depression. At this time I didn’t know anything was wrong with me. I just thought that this was part of life. It isn’t.
One Friday in the April of 2013, I decided to end my life. It wasn’t the first time I had this thought, it had been a daily thought since September 2012. I was finally ready. I went home to Birmingham that weekend, my parents and little sister had left the house that night. I was alone.
I got my handgun, which was my 18th birthday present a few months earlier, I loaded it, and placed it against my head. I put my favorite song on full volume. I gave myself the run time of the song to pull the trigger. In hindsight it seems dramatic, but it seemed appropriate at the time. If you’re interested the song is “Explorers” by Muse. Well the song finished, and I couldn’t pull the trigger. The next day I started my road to recovery.
When I told my parents what I had tried seriously to do, they quickly got me psychological help. I was put on medication to control depression. It worked slightly, but was not fully effective as I am Bipolar and not depressed, but I wouldn’t know that for a year or so. Yet, I was slowly getting better.
In the fall of 2013, I rushed Alpha Phi Omega-National Service Fraternity and gained some of my closest friends. In October of 2014, I published my first book, “Hell Has No Stars” which is about my struggle with depression.
My psychologist knew of my desire to help people and set me up to give a speech on my story to Active Minds at Auburn University. Active Minds is a college group dedicated to spreading mental health awareness and ending the stigma around mental health. I was drawn to the group and became a member.
Now, almost two years to the day that I tried to kill myself, I am so glad I did not. They changed my diagnoses to Bipolar Disorder after I had a documented manic episode earlier this year, but I did not let that deter me. Now I am Vice President of my chapter of Alpha Phi Omega. Active Minds just elected me to be the Vice President of the chapter for next year. I will graduate college on time with a degree in History. I have friends. Life has improved so much since my darker days.
I can say now that I love life. I am not alone. I may still be playing life on hard mode, but the game has gotten a little easier.
It has the uniquely horrible ability to inflict masses of people and blind them from seeing any potential beauty or art.
This unfortunate condition inevitably inhibits any person from acceptance of other cultures or other beliefs. Ignorance is not bliss – it is destructive.
On Friday night, I received word of an attack committed against the parents of a friend of mine. Initially in disbelief, I learned that my friend Trisha Ahmed’s father, Avijit Roy, had visited Bangladesh to attend a book fair. He was a blogger and writer of secularism who had been inspiring a plethora of freethinkers around the world for years.
Roy’s life work garnered the attention of Islamic extremists in Bangladesh who waited for he and his wife, Rafida Bonya Ahmed, after the book fair. It was then that these machete-wielding extremists murdered my friend’s dad and wounded her mother.
Roy was not unaware of the response people like these extremists had to his writing, yet he was not discouraged, and his passion remained unwavering. Unaffected by their ignorance, Roy continued his work even when he received death threats, pursuing what he was passionate for. It is because of this that Avijit Roy was forced to give his life – for never concealing or abandoning his beliefs.
The radical assailants who murdered Trisha’s dad have come forward, yet have not been prosecuted. This disconnect in the justice system of Bangladesh would hardly even be fathomable in the United States and many other Western nations.
However, without global recognition of the killing of Avijit Roy, it is likely that his death is never brought to trial and his murderers go unpunished, which cannot be ignored by the international community. Regrettably, the death of my friend’s dad is simply one example of countless injustices that infect our world – don’t let the disease spread.
If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything. Share the story. Reduce the ignorance.
My mom’s dad is famous in our family.
He had the bluest eyes, the biggest heart, and the greatest sense of humor. Mom always swore “Oh Lyss, he would’ve just loved you. He loved feisty girls.” To her and his 7 other kids’ dismay, my grandpa lost his life to lung cancer while my mother was a senior in high school. I think about him every single day, which is probably foreign to some people considering the fact that I had never even met him.
While I’ve always struggled watching other people spend time with their grandfathers, this past weekend at church I saw a grandpa holding his little granddaughter and it helped me to finally realize that the relationship I have my grandfather is just as special although it was never concrete.
This letter is for all the things you’ve done for me, and the great impact you’ve had on my life even though your actual body was never present in it. You taught me that you can love someone regardless.
I always see the quote on Pinterest that says something along the lines of “I’m in love with cities that I’ve never been to and people that I’ve never met.” While this is something that I a.) probably would’ve reblogged on Tumblr circa freshman year of high school and b.) often now cringe at when I see it on Twitter as it’s very cliché and overused, I realize that in a very non-trendy and non-basic way it can be completely true.
I never actually met my grandpa, but I know in every connotation and definition of the word that I love him. I love stories about him. I love pictures of him. I love picturing how life would’ve been if he could’ve been around in my life.
Somehow… someway… I just know that all of these equates to actually loving the person that he was. I feel a connection to him that I know was not just made up in my own head, and I’m thankful that through picturing him I have realized that it is not crazy to know that I love him.
Your imagination does not have an age limit, and anyone who disagrees probably has a lot less fun because sometimes reality sucks. My grandpa allowed me to picture a perfect fantasy and relationship with him, and although none of it can actually happen in the physical world around me, you made me a passionate person.
Plain and simple, cancer is actually the thing that I hate most in this world. I hate that cancer took my grandpa from me, and I hate that it takes away grandpas, aunts, uncles, moms, dads, brothers and sisters every single day.
Through your loss, though, I realize that it’s important for me to try and make a difference so a little girl in the future won’t have to write an open letter like this one. I joined Relay for Life in high school, and now in college I actively try to raise money for cancer research in hopes of letting that little girl someday in the future be able to meet her grandpa instead of writing an open letter like this one.
Grandpa D, you helped me realize that I want to help change the world, and that while I can’t do it alone, I should totally try. You taught me that being who I am is totally okay.
I’m a feisty person. Sometimes to my own detriment. To my mom’s dismay during my teenage years, I’m often way out of line. I say stuff that I shouldn’t. I tell it how it is. I’m unapologetically outspoken, and this probably won’t change throughout my lifetime.
But, because of my grandpa, I know that’s okay. Mom always said that my grandpa would’ve loved me because I was feisty, and didn’t take anyone’s crap. “He loved feisty girls, you two would’ve been peas in a pod.”
Through this, I realized that my bold (and sometimes too-blunt-for-my-own-good) personality was totally okay, because it’s part of me. I only wish that I could’ve met my Grandpa because maybe somebody would finally understand my totally blunt sense of humor and maybe laugh at my jokes.
You taught me that family is the most important thing, and that they’ll never leave you. Grandpa D, I don’t know how you did it. Eight kids is a lot, and our big Italian family is one that definitely must’ve caused you some frustrations. We’re loud. We’re crazy. We eat a lot. We play lots of card games. We laugh a lot.
You raised and created a family that is incredibly strong, and through hardships has banded together.
Thank you for helping me to realize that no matter the circumstance, your family will always be true and constant. You created the most wonderful family, and I count my blessings each and every day that I became a piece of this puzzle.
Lastly, thank you for teaching me about trying to live and the legacy you leave. At the end of your life, all that really matters are the memories you made, and the lives that you touched. You’ll be known by the stories that are told about you, and you can’t personally advocate for yourself about the type of person that you were anymore.
I know that my grandpa, to be blunt (shocker, I know), kicked ass and took names just from stories that I’ve heard. I know all of these things about him, just because that is what has been told to me.
Realizing this, even at an early age I wanted to be remembered fondly when my life does come to an end. Life is so much more than the things you buy, or own, or being the most famous or popular. In the end, your legacy is all you can leave, and my Grandpa helped me to realize that my actions everyday affect exactly how I will be remembered by the people on this Earth one day. Thank you, Grandpa D, for helping me try to be the very best person I can be. …..
For all these things and more, thank you for being who you were, and who you still are. I know for certain you watched every single dance recital from a cloud up in Heaven. Heck, you may be even watching over me right now as I type this blog post in Jittery Joes (and if you are, sorry that I’m procrastinating on this history homework). I love you to Heaven and back, Grandpa D.
You’re the best grandpa I could have ever asked for, and that’s something I’m certain of.
Just recently, while attending my class in Organizational Behavior in Sport Management I was exposed to my favorite TED Talk once again. Simon Sinek speaks passionately in his TED Talk called “Start With Why”.
He makes you question everything you have ever learned about what you are doing and why you are doing it. All my life I thought I knew “what” I was doing. When people asked me I proudly exclaimed I was going to high school to attend college, and I would ultimately be the next owner of the Ferris family company.
It was not until I viewed this TED Talk back in my senior year of high school that I realized I could not explain why I was planning to take over Ferris Brothers Inc. When I viewed it again just recently, I was reassured as to why I was sitting in Professor Belzer’s classroom.
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”, Sinek says repeatedly. If I wanted to go to college for Sports Management, I had to make my family understand why I was doing it in order for them to support my trek down the path never followed. So maybe I had not invented the next best piece of technology or crafted a detailed business plan for my own company; I still felt the need to make my family buy why I would go to school for Sport Management. Sinek says you must make others believe in why you are doing something in order for them to follow you.
Then one day, once I truly understood for myself, I decided to tell them why. I chose to be a sport management major because I spent my childhood watching my brother play ice hockey. In the midst of my youth, my parents divorced, turning my brother’s life and mine upside down. The only time my family acted as a unit was at my brother’s hockey games.
Never once did I think about the miserable divorce or the awkward silence in my house when my mom was not home to cook dinner at night. Watching my brother play sports brought excitement back into our lives. I looked forward to spending my weekends in the bitter cold ice rink with the love of both parents to keep me warm.
Becoming a Sport Management major would help me to create the same undeniably exciting experience that I had. A sporting event has the power to distract you from real life. It even has the power to turn someone who has never watched sports into the happiest fan in the crowd. The overwhelming energy of the players, the coaches, and the crowd is contagious. Most importantly, sports help you to accept that you cannot always have control over the outcome of a situation.
It’s interesting to note that people ask “what” you are going to school for, never bothering to dig deeper and ask why you planned to dedicate your studies to that field. Asking why reveals so much more about the type of woman I am, the background I came from, what influenced my life. Once someone hears “I am a Sport Management Major,” it is automatically assumed I am going to be the next Jerry McGuire.
They fail to understand my desire to cater to the fans instead of the players. They fail to understand the wonder a game can bring to an entire crowd of strangers, each facing their own struggles outside of the excitement.
The hardest part of deciding how my future career would look was finding out why I was doing it. The second hardest part what getting my family to understand.
If you are interested in learning more about the Start With Why Movement and how they inspire others to do what inspires them, see their website here.