By Lillian Mejia-Gautreau
My grandfather was a tough, brave person. He was a man of God, and he cared for and loved his family very much. When we found out that my grandfather had cancer, it was a big shock. We were all very concerned for him, but my grandfather never showed any fear despite all the surgeries and chemo he had to go through.
My abuelo Jaime Mejia was very proud and faced every challenge head-on with dignity knowing that he could trust in God. Even though my grandfather isn’t with us anymore, his courage and strength during the last years of his life inspire me every day.
When I was a small child living in the Dominican Republic where I was born, I would often stay with my grandparents while both of my parents worked. I remember spending my days watching my Abuela cook, sew, or buy things from the vendors who would go door to door balancing giant baskets of fruits and vegetables on their heads.
I remember listening to my grandparents talking to each other and sitting with them in the afternoons, staring out of the large window in their living room. These were some of my very first memories, and I will always treasure the time I spent with my Abuela and Abuelo in those years.
When we moved to America, I didn’t see my grandparents for some time and I missed them very dearly, we only got to see them on holidays and other special occasions when the whole family got together until finally, our grandparents decided to move to America as well. Since at one point all of my family on my father’s side lived in Michigan we saw each other almost every weekend and it was so amazing.
It felt like our family was whole now that we all lived in the same state. It was hard when everyone started to move away, and even harder when a few years ago we learned of my Grandpa’s condition.
An encounter with grief
My grandfather had cancer in his kidney. Even though he was in a lot of pain, he never stopped being strong for my grandmother. It was a long fight and after chemo and surgery to remove one of his kidneys, he was finally in remission. I remember how happy we were when we celebrated last Christmas in Texas with my cousins. We spent a week going to the beach and spending time together as a family and thanking God for giving our grandfather a longer time to be with us. We all had believed that the worst was over. A while after Christmas, we got word that grandpa hadn’t been feeling well and that he was taken to the hospital. The cancer, previously thought to have been killed by the chemo and the surgery, had come back and begun to spread aggressively throughout his body all the way up to his esophagus. Three weeks later on March 11, my abuelo had passed, surrounded by all his children and grandchildren. We had his memorial a day after.
Grief has a way of breaking down even the strongest of people. My father, who like his father was a proud, strong man who was crying at the sight of his father on his deathbed. As a person who had never lost anyone close to me before, I wasn’t sure what to expect at first because we knew that my grandad was going to pass.
The first thing that hit me was a form of denial. It didn’t at all sink in at first, but after seeing my grandfather, a wave of sadness rushed over me. I knew that he was a God-fearing Christian, and that he was going to be with God and that brought me some peace. However I wouldn’t get to see my grandfather in this life again, and the reality of that was very hard to deal with.
The one major thing that I took away from this experience is that people come and go, this life is temporary but the love that we share in this life becomes our legacy to the people we love. I will never forget my grandfather. and I feel at peace now because I know that he’s with the Lord in heaven now. Family gatherings aren’t the same, and my grandfather’s chair in my grandma’s apartment is empty when we go visit. To this day his legacy lives on in all of us and he taught me and my family how to be strong. I will miss my Abuelo very much and I can’t wait for the day when we are reunited in the next life.
I learned that it’s important to appreciate those around you while they are still with you, and to never forget the lessons they teach you even after they are gone.