By Krista White
The nausea was frequent. The sorrow was constant. My Nana had died.
Normally, I am curious to the point of nosiness, inquisitive to the point of inspiring moderate to severe exasperation. I inherited this from her. Perhaps the subconscious awareness of our shared thirst for knowledge is what stopped me from researching it. Like indulging in this morbid sense of curiosity would be a betrayal, somehow, a confirmation of the inevitable. In the days between diagnosis and death and in the months that followed, I never once typed the dreaded phrase into Google: “stomach cancer.”
I took solace not in seeking answers, but in the neurotic busyness that had so long propelled me through life. It was easier to hold my mother’s hand and make sure my sister got to school and help my dad with the laundry, dishes and dinner. It was easier to find old pictures of my Nana when she was young and spry and wore pretty white dresses and went out dancing with her sisters. It was easier to go visit the hospital and cry and try to memorize what she looked like before she was so tired, before she stopped eating solid food, before she slipped in and out of consciousness, her lucidity as thin and precious as a gossamer ribbon.
The facts would have been harder. They aren’t called “cold hard facts” for nothing. And really, when it came down to it, there was only one fact that mattered. I reserved no hope. My Nana died in her sleep 16 days after we first took her to the ER. It was sudden and it shattered us, but here we stand.
Months later, my brain started to buzz. “Stomach cancer.” “Stomach cancer runs in families?” “Is stomach cancer genetic?” “How long could someone have cancer without knowing?” And the biggest one: “Could we have saved her?” This is the most dangerous question. The one I had avoided as a traveled through Europe on a six-week post graduation trip, through beginning a new job, through re-starting therapy. I dreaded thinking about all the questions that still loomed over me as I sat in traffic each morning and lay in bed each night. “Could we have saved her?” I pushed it aside but it found a home in my body. A small knot squeezing my insides, sometimes in intense waves, sometimes a low, dull pain. But constant, as if to say “you are hurting inside and you need to know.”
I know many people who consider themselves cultured and intellectual would look down upon the use of a young adult literature reference, but few have iterated this sentiment better than John Green in The Fault in Our Stars: “That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.” My grief sat inside me roiling, demanding that I pay attention to it. I was scared, of course, to let myself feel it. What would I do with my sadness once I let it out?
But eventually I did let it out. I cried with my mom, who I adore so much it hurts and who I’ve clung to for dear life after realizing how briefly we are on this earth. We fuss and fight and have misunderstandings, but if there is one thing accepting and finally grieving my Nana’s death has done for me, it is that it has brought me closer to my Mom. In shared love and shared sorrow, my Mama and I have learned to exist in a space without Nana. My Daddy, my little sister, my mama and I have grown closer, communicating more, enjoying and treasuring each other more. We smile at memories of lemonade ice cubes, the way she used to bounce me on her legs when I was small, or how she let me stay up late and watch age-inappropriate TV like Walker Texas Ranger. And the answer to that burning, festering question? I don’t, never will, know. But I do know what counts is the love in my life, from my family here and elsewhere. It is frequent. It is constant. It holds me together.
Jimmiezine (Jimmy for short) was a beautiful, flawed, incredible woman and I feel her spirit in everything from the Chai Latte warming my body right now, to the little hummingbirds flitting by in the sunny skies. And when I speak to her in my head and in my prayers, I tell her I love her, I’m doing fine, and that my stomach hurts a little less each day.
Krista White recently returned to the Bay Area after graduating from Columbia University, and is more than happy to have a snow-less winter. She is deeply passionate about the issues faced by women of color and how their unique backgrounds interact with the arts and society. To the dismay of those who doubted the utility of her theatre degree, Krista works at performing arts PR firm in Silicon Valley. When she isn't busy sending emails or sitting in the Bay Area's hellish traffic, Krista spends her time writing short plays, reading long-form journalism and planning her next big trip. Krista loves musical theatre, Nora Ephron movies and binge-watching The X-Files. Her daily musings can be found on her blog, where she writes about theatre, travel and the most recent episode of How to Get Away with Murder. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @kristanicki.