I don’t like to be reminded of mortality, but who does? That advice of “Live each day like it’s your last” just sounds morbid.
But it does have a lesson: to be present in each and every moment and treasure everything around you, because you just never know what will happen next, really.
In August of 1999, I was about to enter into high school: marching band always started around the end of July so I was busy with preparing for the upcoming football season with the band. I was a somewhat typical teen in that I wanted to spend time with my friends and not so much time with my family.
At that time, my grandmother was already incapacitated from her first stroke, so my grandfather and my parents spent more time taking care of her. When I was younger, my grandmother raised me and my younger brother so my parents could run our family restaurant to provide financially for us and our extended family. My grandmother was practically my mother in that sense, and as a child, I felt closer to my grandmother.
When my grandmother was diagnosed with diabetes, I became her little nurse, helping her check her glucose levels and administer her insulin. I didn’t understand why I was doing what I was doing, but I went along with it to be a good daughter and a good granddaughter.
With my grandmother being bedridden and unable to speak as clearly as she used to, it pained me to visit her, so I didn’t visit as much as I used to, especially once I started marching band.
The day of our annual marching band showcase (where we performed the year’s marching show for friends and family), my mother asked me to accompany her to visit my grandparents. I was adamant about the visit because I didn’t want to see my grandmother in her condition and also I was more interested in spending time with my pen pal, who happened to be my dad’s friend’s daughter, visiting from New Jersey.
I remember sitting on the couch at my grandparents’ house, bored and resigned while my grandfather and my mom helped my grandmother eat a bit of food. I remember my mother saying to my grandmother, “See? Helene has come to visit.” My grandmother looked at me and smiled slightly.
I remember I felt anxious to leave, and after what seemed like awhile, we did (the visit was probably a short one, but you know how teenagers dramatize things). I went on to hang out with my pen pal and we went to the marching band showcase.
That night, my younger brother and I saw ambulance lights flashing from a few houses down (where our grandparents lived) and we just assumed it was another hospital visit. Grandmother will be fine in no time.
The next morning, I awoke early to get ready for my eye appointment: I was to get contacts for the first time! I was getting all prepared for the appointment when my dad walked up to me. “Your grandmother passed away last night.”
I couldn’t fully comprehend the weight of his words. “What?”
“She had another stroke and she passed away.”
Immediately, my whole world fell away as I understood the reality: my grandmother was never coming back. The woman who changed my diapers, took care of me for most of my childhood: she was gone.
And bitterly, I thought back to the previous day and cursed myself for the way I acted on the last day my grandmother was alive. I didn’t fully appreciate that day because I took things for granted; I thought it was just another routine visit.
For many years after her death, I could not forgive myself for the way I acted and felt like her death was my fault. Only in this present day, with tears still streaming down my face as I recall this moment, do I feel that–well, I did the best that I could do at that moment. However, her death reminds me of this life lesson everyday: to be present and to be grateful for loved ones still alive. Every conversation, every visit matters. Cherish each and every moment because life is fragile.