I’ve heard it said that, from the moment of birth, we’re dying. Death has always been an integral part of our lives. Entire cultures have been built around death and the afterlife, and lives have been spent attempting to avoid it. It has a profound impact on us: not only what we do, but who we are as well.
My maternal grandfather died when I was in fifth grade. He had been a central figure in my life up to that point. I stayed overnight at my grandparents’ house almost every weekend. We spent birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays together. I still have incredibly vivid memories of the many hours I spent with my Grandpa. His death was a hard hit. It never truly hit me until the funeral, but when it did, I was devastated. I promised then that I would make him proud. He was always so proud of me, and I want to honor his memory. To this day, almost everything I strive for is for myself, for my God and for my Grandpa. When I do well on a test or in a competition, I can see his face, watching me and beaming, and that makes all the stress and hard work worth it.
Three years ago, my Oma died. She was my grandmother on my dad’s side. I wasn’t as close to her as I was to my mom’s family, but she still played a prominent part in my life. We saw her every Christmas, at least. For as long as I can remember, she’d been riddled with health problems: her eye, her legs, everything. She used to knit afghans for us. I kept one on my bed every winter when it got cold. The last time I saw her was at my house. It may have been a birthday, maybe another holiday. I said hi to her, and she immediately launched into this story about some stupid thing I’d done when I was younger. I could barely understand her; in fact, I don’t even remember what the story was. What I do remember was the joy and laughter in her eyes as she recalled it. Sometimes I think the retelling was more for her than for me. That night remains my most vivid memory of her, and it serves to remind me daily that everyone has a story. Listen to it. It may be the last story she ever tells.
I know I’m not the only person with stories like these. A majority of the people in this room probably have tales to match. Some may even have sadder ones. Nevertheless, I will never forget my stories or these people. I know it sounds cliché, but, even though I know I won’t see my Grandpa or my Oma in this lifetime, I feel at ease knowing they will stay with me. I still visit them, especially on holidays and birthdays. In fact, I brought my boyfriend to visit my Grandpa last week. I still talk to them, too, every night. I keep them up-to-date on everything that’s happening, and I know they’re watching me. Hopefully they’re proud. So, it is in their memory that I say this: I believe in the power of death to change lives.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.