May 11, 2014

Gifts to the Living From the Dying: Lessons I Learned Before Saying Good-bye to My Grandmother. ~ Kat Gal

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I always wanted to go to Portugal.

I was clearly excited when I secured an amazing volunteer opportunity in Porto. It was going to be an amazing chance to see a new country, create beautiful memories, gain further perspective on life and learn more about myself.

However, I never ended up going to Portugal. The Universe apparently had different plans. I had to learn some life lessons in a different country from a different situation instead of a fun volunteer job.

My 81-year-old grandmother suddenly (and unexpectedly) got sick. She was always a strong woman, walking up-and-down from the third floor, shopping, cooking, going out with friends, going to the cinema and just living her life.

Then, all of a sudden she was ill and taken to the hospital.

While we didn’t know yet what was wrong with her, I had to make a decision.

I chose my grandmother over Portugal.

I dropped my adventure-seeking, fun-filled, freedom-driven life. As always, I followed my intuition and flew back to my home country, Hungary.

It was the right decision.

The woman I found in the hospital bed wasn’t the strong and energetic grandmother I once knew. She was weak and ill. The doctor told me that she was bleeding from many wounds and they still had to do some tests.

A series of painful and tiring tests began—blood work, Colonoscopy, PET-scan and more—while my grandma was steadily getting worse. Then, the prognosis came of two types of cancer and some other complications. Because of her rapid decline, there was nothing left to do.

Nothing but to wait.

The wait wasn’t long. About two months after starting to notice symptoms, only three weeks after my arrival and two days after her 82nd birthday, my grandmother’s suffering ended. She passed away in the early morning at the beginning of April.

It’s been a bit over three weeks since her death and I am looking back at my last weeks spent with her. I certainly learned more about life during these weeks than I would have in Portugal. I learned and experienced some invaluable lessons that I will remember for life.

Practice gratitude every day.

A few weeks before my grandmother’s death, she turned to me and said,

“You know, I was healthy all my life, and now that my years are numbered, I get sick and will have to get well and re-learn it all over again.”

I told her that she should be happy that she was so healthy for all those years.

She replied, “Yes, I should have been happy. But I wasn’t. I didn’t know I was supposed to be happy.”

Her answer hit me hard. I suddenly realized that so often we do not appreciate what we have. We take things for granted.

I now know how important it is to be grateful for every day and for everything we have: daily gratitude is non-negotiable.

Health is everything.

My grandmother used to hang out with her friends. She cooked food, went shopping, played cross-word puzzles, read books and watched TV. She didn’t think much about health and illness because she was taking her medications for her issues and was feeling fine.

Then, suddenly, she was very ill and was unable to do basically anything. Her health was declining by the minute. She lost her vitality and her life even before actually losing her life.

The funny thing about health is when we have it, we don’t really think about. Yet, as soon as we feel unwell, even just a little bit, we suddenly realize its importance.

Being healthy is our only true wealth. We all need to consciously nourish our bodies and souls to show appreciation for our health.

Be in the moment.

A few hours after stepping off the plane, I saw my grandmother and heard the bad news from the doctor.

From then on, it was both a roller coaster ride and an avalanche going down at the same time: bad news after bad news. My grandmother was getting weaker and weaker and I was having to be strong to take care of her.

We didn’t know how much time she had left— a few days, a week or maybe a few weeks— but we knew that it wasn’t too long.

The last three weeks with my grandmother taught me more about being present than any yoga class or meditation ever has before. I simply had to be there, ready to take care of her needs. I would help her drink water or hold her hand. I quickly had to learn to appreciate every moment with her without thinking about or knowing whether there would be another moment left.

I learned that there is only one certainty in life: the present moment. And, it is absolutely necessary to be present in each and every moment.

Sometimes you have to let things go.

There were no questions, ‘if’-s or ‘but’-s, the situation was clear: it was the end of my grandmother’s life.

Sure, I wanted to rewind, find the spot when she was healthy and push the stop button, find where her illness started and heal her quickly and pretend she wasn’t going to die. It was tough to imagine my life without her and to watch her suffer, but it was time to let go, to thank her and let her rest.

Nothing (including life) lasts forever in the world. Everything is a beautiful, fluid, continuous cycle, which means that everything comes to an end. Even if it’s tough, accepting when a chapter closes is a part of life and we need to let it go with love and gratitude.

Love is the most important gift.

My grandma was dying. There was really nothing much left to do but take care of her basic needs, visit her in the hospital, talk to her, hold her hand and love her.

Sure, I have questioned whether or not I could have done more. But in the end, I realized that I had done enough. Loving her was the most important thing I needed to do.

I strongly believe that love is a basic need and that love is everywhere. Sometimes love is all we need, sometimes love is all we can give and sometimes love is simply everything.

If nothing else, please remember to love.


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Photo: Valics Lehel/Pixoto

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