Today, like every Thursday, teachers and students in our district will wear purple to honor a colleague, friend and mentor who is currently battling pancreatic cancer. I wear my purple proudly, standing in solidarity with a man who is giving this disease a run for its money. Yet, in my purple garb, my heart is twinged with a bit of sadness. My family is intimately acquainted with pancreatic cancer. We lost my grandma after a very short, yet excruciating battle five years ago.
My memories of my grandma are intertwined with feelings of love, warmth, and laughter. She was a teeny tiny woman of diminutive stature, standing 4’ 9”, a whole foot shorter than me. She wore bright, colorful socks and smelled of a tropical drink. She stashed away boxes of chocolates that she pulled out of her china cabinet every night after dinner. She marked birthdays by making signs and blowing up balloons. She stayed up with us every single New Year, wore a silly hat, and drank sparkling grape juice. She had a soft spot in her heart for cats, even featuring a picture of her overweight cat, Cuddles, on her Christmas cards. But, of all of the memories I have of her, the way she kissed is engraved on my heart.
My grandma had thin little lips that she puckered into a bright, lipsticked heart when she would go in for a smooch. She would grab your face and put her hands behind your ears, pull you down close, and lightly skim your lips and cheeks. Every single time I saw her and every single time we said goodbye, she would pull me close. I would be enveloped in the smell of her perfume, her soft hands on my face, and the world stopped momentarily.
My grandma died eight weeks to the day after her diagnosis. I remember the last kiss from her. My husband and I took our 18 month old son to see her in Oregon one last time (she moved out there after my grandfather’s death). I almost broke down sobbing in the parking lot of the assisted living home (college for seniors, as I like to say) because I knew it would be the last time she would kiss my face.
When the news finally came, I knew Grandma was at peace, no longer suffering, reunited with my grandpa in heaven. My mom handed me an envelope with my name on it, adorned by heart stickers and swirlies in Bic pen. I froze, immediately recognizing the handwriting as Grandma’s. In the last week before her death, she wrote to all of us, thanking us for being a part of her life. I cherish that letter, keeping it in our fire safe box, because I have to tell you, I wouldn’t think twice before running back into my house for it if my house were on fire. I take it out every now and then, and wrap myself in her words, recalling the special love between a grandmother and her granddaughter.
So, every Thursday, I wear my purple to remind my friend that he can beat this disease, to keep fighting, and to know he has an army of purple warriors behind him. But, know that every Thursday, I kiss my kiddoes a little differently, pulling their faces close and drinking in their smell, remembering a woman whose love changed me forever.