Big Spoon, Little Spoon – Darby Cox

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On February 19th, 2019, my grandmother was given less than a year to live.

photo by author — Pont des Artes bridge, Paris France

My grandmother was the only person in my family who never cried with this news. She told us all that she was ready for death, that she had lived a full life she was proud of, and that she was not scared of what came next. If you knew Carol, you know this is the truth.

My grandmother has always been my most favorite family member. She is the person who always pushed me to experiment in life, from a new look to learning to cook. She is the person who taught me to like ‘spooning’ as she called it [snuggling, for the rest of us]. She is the person who always played my imaginary childhood games with me. She is the person who knew exactly how I like my cinnamon toast, and she is the only person in my blood family who reacted appropriately when I realized I liked other girls.

Realizing I was going to lose the most important person in my family before I lost them — at first I was miserable. I spent each day dreading the inevitable, and I was swarmed with it. I felt a tremendous sense of loss, and pain. A lot of anger. It came in waves of tremendous sad and quiet numbness.

In one of the waves, I called a friend to whine.

He reminded me that even the dissolving of a bond is a memory worth having. I could take this time to review and reflect on how I had changed as a person, and focus on ensuring my remaining time was spent building memories worth having, memories not rooted in pain. He told me that I needed to use this time to reflect on what having my grandmother in my life meant to me, and to focus on how she had improved me.

When my parents suspected that I might be attracted to the same gender, my mother told me I was going to hell and dragged me to church for a brief while. I was grounded, banned from seeing my (semi-secret) girlfriend, and my mother didn’t hesitate to pass on a chance to shame me. My friends, as well, did not appear to be particularly welcoming of the idea, likely swayed by the frequent and aggressive public commentary on the incorrectness of gay behavior. My (semi-secret, openly gay) girlfriend was bullied by students & teachers alike, aggressively enough to force her to change schools mid-year of our Sophomore class. To my parents, my friends — this was success.

When my grandmother suspected during this process — she had found a love letter from my girlfriend at the time in my things — she confronted me with, “I think this girl likes you.” I tried to deny it, but fell silent. We lose our power in our silence. “It’s okay for you to like her. I will love you no matter what, no matter who you like.” She reached for my hand, and we continued grocery shopping. That was it. That was my moment. Sometimes you don’t realize the important moments of your life until long after they have already left.

author with grandmother — circa 1999

She never mentioned it to me again after that moment. She didn’t threaten me, tell me what a hard life I would have, or use any scare tactics. She told me she loved me, and that I was okay. She told me that I hadn’t done anything wrong, and she certainly wasn’t going to love me any less. She didn’t tell me that others would come around, or that my life would be easy, she just wanted me to know that I would still be loved for who I am.

I won’t ever know if she remembers that conversation. I don’t know if this was just something small for her, a brief comment in passing, because she knew it was the right thing to say then. I don’t know if she thought hard about it, realizing how alone I felt, if she struggled to compose the perfect message or worried about mentioning it at all. Or if it was just one of the many platitudes of love she had given me over the years, said at the right time, to a scared teenager that needed to feel accepted.

I do know that those words gave me the armor that I desperately needed to survive high school and grow into someone who didn’t fear who they were. Sometimes, it only takes the support of one person, no matter how small or brief, to remind you that you have an army within yourself. I was protected, because I was loved.

I would like to say that this one moment gave me the courage to embrace my identity, that it clicked immediately for me. No, the passage of time and years of personal growth gave me that. But this moment taught me how important it is to vocalize your love and acceptance to those around you, because you just might be the only acceptance they have.

My grandmother taught me that the most powerful thing that I can do in this world is to love fiercely and without judgement or condition. She taught me that even when love scared people — it didn’t mean that fear of love was a valid reason not to love. She taught me to believe love is positive, and withstanding. And finally, my grandmother taught me that if I can hold onto the power of love, I too, can leave this world with no missed moments, no fear of the dark night, and a well-traveled heart.

Less than 45 days after her diagnosis, my grandmother left this world, peacefully, surrounded by the people who loved her the most.

*this piece is dedicated to Carol Jean Cox. I like you forever, I love you for always.

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