In September 2015, just after returning from Finland and Russia, we learned my husband's grandmother, Susie, had terminal lung cancer. It already spread to other areas. She planned to treat it as much as possible, but we all knew it wasn't a curable cancer.
Over the years, we grew close with Susie, especially after we moved closer to the hubby's grandparents following college. Susie's husband, John, passed away in June 2015 after battling Parkinson's. To be frank, it really sucked to hear about Susie so soon after losing Grandpa John. We had 12-18 months with her and we don't regret the time we spent with her over the last year. She passed away in October 2016.
The real kicker about losing Susie was we just arrived in France after spending 10 days in Germany. No lie - it sucked. However, in the days leading up to our trip, several decisions were made which showed the true colors of our family and the importance of living life.
Love and Loss
Death tends to bring out the true colors in people. Some crumble, display selfishness, or retreat to let others deal with the hard stuff. Others step up to the plate, ensure everyone eats, sleeps, arrangements are made and carried out, and they stay strong for those who need them. I'm proud to say our family supported our decision to travel and supported each other. They also supported and respected our decision to stay on our trip and not return home for the memorial services. Someone in the family told us, "This is your time to live life. Not sit around and wait for those you love to die."
After soul-searching, long conversations, and a lot of cheeseburgers and candy (helloooo, stress eating!), we agreed to take the trip and see what transpired while abroad. Maybe nothing would happen. Maybe the worst would happen. There's no way to plan for death, but the earlier advice rang true. At this point, we were not simply taking a vacation, but we were living out Susie's wishes for us.
It's in these hard moments in life when you realize what matters: important people, love, support, and being true to oneself. We are so incredibly lucky to have a beautiful and wonderful immediate and extended family that embodies these values that matter to us as a couple. If you're reading this, know that we are grateful for you.
To Travel or Not to Travel
The plan going into the trip was to spend 10 days in Germany and then the in-laws would meet us in France. There, all 6 of us would get tipsy and eat duck, crepes, and cheese until we exploded. That was the plan, until about September 25, with Susie's health visibly and quickly declined. She could sense her time nearing and she started to call the grandkids to her home to make her goodbyes.
At that time, my hubby and Susie talked briefly, but deeply about our upcoming vacation. She insisted we take our trip and enjoy our life and vacation. She visited France and Germany many years earlier and looked forward to us seeing the same sights. Sadly, we never swapped stories, but we lit candles in remembrance at one of the world's most iconic cathedrals, Notre Dame de Paris.
Whether it's love of family or love of travel or the intersection where those meet, the love from our family helped us cope with Susie's death both abroad and after we returned.
We'll remember the many ways in which both Susie and John changed our lives, whether it was words of wisdom in tough times, an extra bit of cash in our pockets, or just a non-ramen meal during college. With 4 children and 7 grandchildren, Susie & John's memory will live on everyday. Their kindness, respect, tolerance, and love for all people and things truly demonstrate what it means to be a good person.
If any of us grow up to be half as good, honest, and pure as either Susie or John, the world will be a better place.