On Cancer, Twenty Years, And The Things Time Can’t Take Away

Eleven days into the new Millennium, my grandmother…I knew her as Memaw…lost a brief fight with cancer. Always an introspective and nostalgic person myself, this morning’s 20th anniversary of her passing has brought much reflection: about death, grief, disease…but mostly about her. I spent the majority of my first five years of life living with her and, as a result, I see her fingerprints on my life every day. This is true despite the fact that the two decades she’s been gone make me three times older now than I was then. As much time has gone by, time reminds me how much a part of me she still is. 

When I lived with her, so far as I can remember, Memaw worked at a local library. If I wasn’t at daycare I was probably posted up in some random corner of that library with a book in hand. Books: I was surrounded by them as a child, a trend that has continued into adulthood. Nowadays I always have something…printed on actual paper…nearby and I’m quick to recommend a good book or article. All of this reading as a child and a teenager has lead to a dramatically larger vocabulary than my peers, so I’m told. My familiarity with history, pop-culture, and the like is more vast. These two traits show up daily and lead me to my truest passion: writing. As a student, finance professional, and occasional blogger this ability to communicate ideas through written word serves me every day. I have that youthful fascination with books and imagination to thank for that, my identity would be completely different otherwise. 

Speaking of identity… Prior to my birth, fractions broke out when my parents suggested my name would be Blake. Blake, to me, seems like a reasonably strong name, but the family broke into camps over it. Memaw, by then an avid fan of a hit primetime trivia show, emerged with a potential solution: Alex. The rest is history. Time went on and, during the years I lived with her, we watched Jeopardy almost every night. I don’t watch the show as often as I used to, but my love of random bits of trivia…important or otherwise…continues. In the 20 years since her death, the occasional episode of Jeopardy has helped me keep her memory alive and allowed me to still feel close to her. Alex Trebek, with his graying hair and authoritative demeanor, has enveloped a sort of “grand-fatherly” place in my heart. That he now faces a fate similar to my grandmother is a cruel irony. 

More than anything, the time since her death has reinforced one thing: how much I miss her. Man do I miss her. I missed her during the times cancer took her away from me: At my high school graduation, my college graduation…in April I’ll miss her at my wedding. The passing of time is interesting in that it magnifies and subtracts at the same time. I remember funny quirks – how she taught me to buckle my seatbelt by refusing to turn on the AC until I had done so — but I can’t seem to remember the smell of her perfume or the exact sound of her laugh. She would remind me, though, to be thankful for the time that we did have…for every person that had a grandparent when I didn’t, so too was there someone without a parent, or sibling, or spouse. Missing her has reminded my how much control we lack. 

If Memaw were alive today she’d be approaching her mid-80’s, putting her still 20+ years younger than her own mother who ended up surviving every one of her children. If Memaw were alive today she’d love that my family eventually moved from Atlanta to Tampa, closer to her home in Sarasota. If she were alive today she’d love that I never lost my love for a good book and that I was using my writing to try and help and inspire people. If she were alive today she’d probably wonder why I took up the drums instead of a more timid instrument, like the acoustic guitar or the piano. She’d probably hate my tattoos and my growing collection of firearms, and she’d probably wish I’d cut back on the whiskey. If she were alive today she’d love the man I’ve become and who I’m working to be. She’d love, more than anyone else, the woman I’m marrying; our wedding would be the date she looked most forward to all year. If she were alive today I’d have two extra decades worth of photos with her, with any luck there would be high definition videos of her and I on my phone. I’m left, though, with only what I have…it’s less than some but more than plenty of others. I’m fortunate that Memaw and I created the memories that we do have. I’m fortunate, most of all, for her continued influence on my life. 

That’s something Cancer can’t take away. 

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