Today, I’m glad it’s not a year ago.
Today is the Don Holst Twilight Meet, Chadron State’s one and only home track meet. While the meet is relatively small, featuring only three or four teams, and takes place on a tiny, 180 meter, track, this day bears great significance in my mind. One year ago, when I was competing for South Dakota Mines, I went home with my parents after the meet to see my Grandma Vinton for the last time.
My grandmother had stage four ovarian cancer at this point last year, and had had cancer for three years without telling anyone. We all knew that grandma was a bit sick, but that’s to be expected when a person is almost 90 years old. However, no one knew the almost constant pain that my grandma was in, or about the cysts that were making it almost impossible for her to walk. My grandmother grew up during the Great Depression and bore considerable hardships in her life, and for that reason, she never complained, never showed any signs of weakness. I admire my grandmother for this trait, but, in this case, stoicness was not a good characteristic for her to have.
The time between my grandma’s diagnosis and her passing was about two months, or the entire span of indoor track season. I went to visit her at home, as she was living with my family at this point for better access to the cancer center, after the second meet of the season, and attended her funeral right before the last meet of the season. A span of time this short is not enough time to comprehend what exactly is going on, and I had a rough time coping with my grandmother’s sickness. Sometimes I would be fine and almost forget about what my family was going through, and sometimes I would randomly burst into tears, during solo long runs and in the locker room. It was extremely difficult for me to discuss the topic with anyone, and the only one of my friends I told about my grandma’s cancer was my roommate. Grief, no matter the flavor, is a painful human emotion, and can be hard to express or even discuss.
Personally, the hardest part about my grandma’s passing was the fact that I was not close with her. My grandmother was a hard woman to know, as she was one to bottle up her emotions inside. Her husband passed unexpectedly when my dad was eleven and when my grandma was pregnant with twins, so she was forced to develop a tough outer layer, which is probably why she didn’t seek medical attention when she first started having symptoms of cancer. My grandma was devoutly Catholic, an admirable way of life but a hard one to imitate. She was not overly welcoming to other beliefs and cultures, which is a hard for me to deal with, as my boyfriend is Lutheran (cue Grandma Vinton saying, “*GASP* Lutherans!”). Overall, I had a cordial relationship with my grandma, but not an affectionate one, and as it is when a loved one dies, I regretted all the missed opportunities to bond with her, and all the times I avoided going out to her ranch because, ranch work.
However emotionally trying death may be, something good always arises from it, like a phoenix out of the flames. Death is not an end, or a destination; it’s merely another leg of our journey that we aren’t able to clearly visualize. The passing of my grandma reminded me of the reasons I need to stay vigilant in my own life, and, should I pass unexpectedly, I leave behind a legacy of kindness, compassion, and giving my whole to the causes I believe in. Therefore, at today’s track meet, I am going to compete with my whole heart, and be proud of myself no matter the results. If I run well, I will be proud that I am able to push my body beyond its limits. If my race is sub-par, I will be grateful that I had the opportunity to compete against high caliber competition and that I have a starting place to work up from. Life is weird, and is not always a guarantee, so I’ll try to live every moment of this race the way that I try to live my life, that it is sacred and beautiful.
And throughout all of it, I know my grandmother is looking down on me, and even though we weren’t close in her life, I know she has always loved me and is proud of me, a fact that cannot be erased from the passing of one life to the next.b