On April 11th, 2016 I lost my mother to the terrible disease that is cancer.

Just typing that sentence out is like taking a bullet. I keep hoping that this is some bad dream and I’ll wake up soon.

We found out in February of this year (2 days before I found out about Stanley the basset’s diagnosis) that my mom had AML, Acute Myeloid Leukemia. She had been sick for quite some time and had been told that she’d been suffering from the flu, or a respiratory infection, or bronchitis. Finally after several weeks her blood panel came back with answers, her platelets were so low she was a full blown hemophilic by that time. She had to be taken via ambulance to East Carolina University Hospital 2 hours away from her house to receive the blood she needed and start chemotherapy. She had the best outlook and determination to beat the disease, but unfortunately the prognosis with AML is bleak to begin with and the chemotherapy just destroyed her body. Because her immune system was taken to zero we weren’t allowed to visit her because of the chance of infection. We kept being told that we’d get to see her when she beat it, when she was released. She had to stay in a sterile environment free of germs and contamination, so my dad drove 2 hours there and 2 hours home every day just to sit with her and laugh. He ate lunch away from her because fresh fruit and veggies had bacteria on them that could kill her. He talked to her about her diagnosis, how strong she was, and their life over the past 44 years together. During the time she was in the cancer ward I customized an album for her and had it sent to their house so dad could take it to her. She loved getting on my Facebook every day and looking at photos of our family, so I spent hours sifting through family photographs and building an album for her to look at. I didn’t care if the photos were blurry from cell phone pictures or some amazing ones we took at the beach last August, the important thing was that she knew that she had an army of people behind her supporting her. I wanted her to see faces of people who loved her while she was fighting for her life. When the album arrived my dad told me that it made her day, and when I got to talk to her I could hear the smile in her voice. I carried this weight around with me for close to 2 months, she didn’t want anybody to know her diagnosis because she didn’t want anybody to worry about her. That was my mom, she was always worried about people worrying over her. She hated to be fussed over. It wasn’t until she was put on life support that we told the rest of our family and friends what was happening.

I never got to see my mother awake in the cancer ward, on the day of her last biopsy she went into respiratory distress and was taken to the ICU. She was on life support the last 3 weeks of her life and passed shortly after I arrived to see her for the last time on April 11th. I’m lucky that I got to spend time with her during those last 3 weeks, even if she wasn’t conscious. I have several amazing friends here in Memphis that made it possible for me to go see during the week and fly home on weekends to work. They watched my son for me while I sat in the hospital and held her hand, read to her, and told her stories about my son, Brody. They gave me something I can never thank them enough for, they gave me the chance to say goodbye to my best friend, my lifeline, my mother.

After she passed the family spent the whole week looking at photographs. We looked at my mom and dad’s wedding album, we looked at photos of her on Facebook, and we passed that album I made around from person to person and cried over the photos of how happy we all were. We held onto each other and sobbed and shook our heads in disbelief that she was really gone. She was 64 years old when she died. She was one year and a few months into her retirement, 4 trips booked this year to explore the world with my dad, 2 children in their 30’s, and a grandson who turns 3 this June. This September she and my dad would have been married 40 years. She was robbed…we all were.

When I run my fingers over the photos in that album, when I stop to look at the framed photos of me and my mother that I’ve collected over the years, when I cry over my baby album and grieve over the loss of my best friend I can’t help but be thankful. I’m thankful that for one split second in time that someone froze a moment for me to treasure for the rest of my life. I’m thankful that I have photos of her and my son, thankful that I have photos of her and her parents and her brother, thankful that I have these pieces of paper to cling onto and pass along. Her story will never be forgotten, it won’t sit on my iMac in my office silenced by the hum of my hard drive. It will hang on my walls, it will stop people in their tracks as they look at her during her 20’s with raven colored hair down to her waist and a smile that could light up the darkest night.

Print your photos folks. I can’t say it enough. Print your photos. Life is short, computers crash, digital files corrupt, usb drives break, cd’s get lost. You can’t hand a digital file down 4 generations and expect them to treasure it. Print them and put them in a lock box at your bank if you have to. You’ll never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory, you’ll never know what you have until it vanishes. Print your photos. Hang your photos. Treasure your memories. Life is short, we aren’t promised tomorrow. Don’t wait until it’s too late and you’re scrambling to find a photo of your loved one at cousin Bob’s wedding from 3 years ago. Print your photos, all of your photos, even your cell phone photos.

Josephine Grynaviski

May 27, 1951 – April 11, 2016


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