angel of strength

My Inheritance

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I became slightly obsessed with my dead grandmother.  Or, more accurately, I became obsessed with all of the things that I – the youngest of four siblings – inherited from my dead grandmother who I had never met.

Why did I inherit the fine china set that I’m certain she never ate a meal on?  The fine china that has stayed neatly packed in my attic since the day we moved in.  How on earth, with two older sisters, did I inherit her diamond engagement ring and her gold wedding band?  And the biggest question of all:  why did I inherit the breast cancer that killed her?

I spent a lot of time wondering if I’d been cursed or somehow ominously marked when I brought her things into my home.  I wondered if I should throw them out, let each beautiful dish shatter into tiny pieces or ceremoniously burn every serving tray, platter, tea cup, gold band and diamond ring that she ever touched.  I wondered if all of these things had somehow gotten lost or misplaced when she died or when my grandfather moved;  if they had mysteriously disappeared 50 years ago, never to be touched by me or my siblings, would I still be feeling this hideous lump?

I wondered.  A lot.

Before my own treatment started, I dug out my grandmother’s wedding band.  I needed to touch it and imagine how it must have looked on her hand.  I wondered if, like me, she tugged on it or spun it when she was nervous or when they told her she had breast cancer.  I wondered if she wore it during the treatments that failed her so miserably.  I wondered if she had it on when she died.

I put it on my own finger to see how it felt.

That very same day, a dear friend sent me a necklace – the angel of strength.  I put my new necklace on and began spinning that old ring and I cried.  I cried because I suddenly realized how miserable it must have been to be diagnosed with breast cancer in 1960.  I suddenly understood that the heart attack that killed her was a direct result of the treatment that she was hoping would save her.  I suddenly recognized why my own diagnosis of breast cancer came with regular visits to the cardiologist.  I suddenly realized that my dead grandmother was a part of my own, personal clinical trial.

And I suddenly realized that all of those things she left behind, all of those things that found their way to me, were with me for a reason:  a reminder that I had my very own angel of strength always hovering nearby.

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