Saturday, February 18, 2012

A plug

On the day of my high school graduation, my grandfather was sick.

From the minute I was born, I loved my grandfather. When I started to talk, I spontaneously called him "Grandpere," an appellation which, I am sure, delighted him to no end. Before I was born, he told my parents that he was too young to be a grandfather - but oh, how he rose to the occasion. He was the librarian of culinary delights, with trips to French bakeries and evenings spent with elbows tucked decorously below fine linen, spoon at the ready for the cracking of the fine sugar crust of creme brûlée. He knew every rule of grammar and every way to be polite - and he knew every waiter and chef and teacher and organist in Baltimore. He could be angry and passionate and hard, but he could also be playful and joyous and child-happy on Christmas morning.

When he died, people told me that I had been the light of his life. Few people know how much he had been the light of mine.

When I graduated from high school, it seemed that my grandfather would always be there, correcting my grammar and feeding me Otterbein's cookies after midnight mass. But suddenly and insidiously, he was sick, and kept getting sicker, and when the phone call came - pancreatic cancer - I felt a dam inside me break. Some things, we can't fix.

Everyone in my life has been an incredible influence, and speaking of my grandfather doesn't take away from the fact that my parents, my Grandmere, my sister, and my fiancé have been equally important to me. But Grandpere made me who I am - rigid, kind, organized, loving, stubborn, accepting, hungry for life, and most of all, finally, accepting death, however unscrupulous and ugly it may be. The words spoken to me by my Grandpere as he was preparing - how to balance a checkbook, what pictures go in the family album, how much he loved us - stay with me every day.

It wasn't just his life which made me, me. It was what he said when faced with the impossible and unimaginable. It was a diagnosis of a handful of days stretched to two years. It was his dedication to us, and his bull-strong, I have to take care of them.

Cancer doesn't make us prettier after death. I know that there were times when my Grandpere was wrong. But cancer shouldn't make us uglier in life. So many of us have been touched by cancer, from friends to distant family to Grandpere - from our personal lives to the millions who suffer with it every day. I try not to think about it, because sometimes remembering the dignity without dignity, the horror of sickness and the struggle for faith, makes me afraid to face the future. We have all seen cancer. We are all victims.

And we all are survivors.

When I'm so, so scared, so sick with the mere idea of illness, I think about how I can get through it, and if there is some magical right thing to do - if we can all work and come up with a cure. I don't know if we can. All of our miracle medical advances seem medieval when compared to the possibility of cells and chemicals and radiation actually working together and producing something final, something to end the fear. But there is a right thing. There is in all of us some small way to help.

I'm getting married in September. All of my family will be there, and all of George's, and all of our friends. But I miss my Grandpere. I miss the pleasure, pure and young and unmarred, that he would feel upon his first bite of cake, his first sip of champagne, the neatness of a crisp dress shirt and a rose boutonnière. He would have been so happy.

So, please, everyone, let's do the right thing.

A friend of mine from Hopkins is doing it. Support him if you can.

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